7 Ways to Jump-start a Stalled Job Search

jump-start-shutterstock_206038111When clients with stalled searches first contact me, they often see the cause as something beyond their control. They tell me “I’m too old (or young),” “I’m overqualified (or underqualified),” “there are no jobs,” “I’ve sent in countless applications with no response,” or “I don’t have enough (or the right) experience.”

While in some cases they may be right, most of the time I find that they face a different problem with a much easier solution. Below I’ve included the top seven ways you can jump-start your search, based on my experience of the real reasons for many stalled searches.

1. Make sure your message resonates: Your target audience’s No. 1 question is “How can you help me?” Make sure you answer this question in your resume, LinkedIn profile, emails/cover letters, and pitch. This means dropping the jargon that is only relevant to your current or last job, and using the language of your next.

If you aren’t sure how to position yourself correctly, do research by a) looking at job postings for keyword ideas, b) looking at the LinkedIn profiles of those who do what you want to do, c) reading the blogs and journals that reflect your sector, and d) talking to people — get informational meetings with those in your target field.

2. Have a targeted resume: Don’t try to be all things to all people. Have a specific resume and pitch for each job target (that is, each combination of position/job description and industry/organization-type). Examples of job targets include “Creative Director, large advertising agencies” or “Business Analyst, pharmaceutical companies.”

One client’s resume initially highlighted his accounting, chief financial officer, and project management expertise equally, because he wanted to be sure he was considered for all of these opportunities. But his resume wasn’t getting any interest. The reason: He was watering down his message. For example, when he went for an accountant position, they chose the competitor resumes that were all about accounting. Once we created three different versions of his resume, one for each target, he started becoming competitive.

3. Focus on one job-target at a time: If you have multiple job targets, you may want to pursue them all at once. Avoid this temptation, because prioritizing and focusing on one thing at a time, with some overlap, is a superior strategy. 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, and is one reason for a long search.

4. Take an “active” approach to your search: As soon as I hear a client say “I’ve applied to over 100 jobs and no response,” I already suspect the problem: too much focus on “applying.” Just waiting for the ad to show up or the search firm to call is ineffective because it’s passive. You need to actively go out and get what you want. The most successful job hunters know how to build and leverage their network and contact “strangers” directly to get meetings; that is, they tap into the hidden job market. LinkedIn can be of great help with these two approaches.

Don’t just passively drift around in the employment ocean, hoping the currents will take you to that island of your dreams. Actively seek out that island and then swim to it! That is, spend 80% of your time networking and contacting strangers directly who you want to meet, and just 20% on job postings and search firms.

5. Make sure you have no communication blind spots: Is your message getting lost because of poor delivery? Get feedback on all your communications channels – resumes, emails, phone-calls, cover letters, and in-person meetings. Often we need someone else to point out our blind spots. Examples from client experiences include lack of eye contact, fidgeting or another physical quirk during a meeting (and thus the inability to close the deal in an interview), big dense paragraphs in resumes, cover letters or emails (no one wants to read them), a spotty phone connection, a bad LinkedIn profile picture, and so on.

6. Play the Numbers Game: Even if you do everything else right, at the end of the day it’s still a numbers game. You have to go for enough “potential” in your job search, and then seek to get meetings with as many people as possible.

Here’s what I mean by “potential.” One client wanted to be a chief marketing officer at a mid-sized organization, and she targeted six organizations where she wanted to work. That’s only six possible positions (since there’s only one CMO at each firm), and of course she needed to wait for one of the current CMOs to leave before she even had a shot! So her job search was taking forever. The solution: She expanded her search’s potential by targeting more positions, through adding organizations, new geographies, and additional titles.

Then you want to get enough meetings. If you are just hanging your hopes on one or two interviews, that’s not nearly enough. Get numerous conversations going (not just interviews, but informational meetings) with people in a position to hire you. Because it’s a numbers game, most of those won’t turn into anything. But a few will. Building up enough volume is key to success. Once people meet with you, new possibilities open up (even if nothing is open now), through staying in touch or getting referrals.

7. Stay in touch with your network: Not staying in touch is one of the biggest mistakes job seekers make. If you’re in a job search, reach out every three to six weeks. If you already have a job, reach out two to four times a year. Send them a simple “hello and update” email, or a link to something they would find useful, or “additional thoughts” since your last meeting.

Don’t do what one client did before he came to see me. He said, “I’ve been looking for a year, with no results.” I asked, “Have you had any informational meetings?” He said that he had a number of great meetings a year ago, at firms where he wanted to work, but he hasn’t spoken to them since. I told him, “If you had kept in touch with these people, you probably would have had an offer by now” and he agreed. Remember, only 50% of successful networking is about actually meeting people. The other 50% involves keeping in touch to build real relationships.