Suffering job search frustration? It's easy to happen if your search has gone stagnant. Luckily, it's easy to get that job search back in action!
This is a situation all too familiar to many candidates. You are a month (or three) into the job search, and the response is lukewarm at best. You are getting few calls, and most of the resumes you have sent out did not even get a rejection note.
While it can be easy to slip into job search frustration, despair (and watch another season of Game of Thrones on the couch, while eating ice-cream straight out of the container), I offer you a more constructive alternative.
Would you like to re-launch the job search that seems to have stalled? Here is a simple job search checklist.
1. Check your focus.
A common complaint that I hear from hiring managers is that the bulk of the resumes they receive look as though the candidate never read the job description, but sent the application just in case. Is it possible that you are sending out too many resumes for openings that are not a great fit for your skills? In that case, narrowing your focus may get you better results and help you avoid job search frustration.
It may seem that by getting more resumes out, you are improving your odds of securing interviews and job offers. However, that job search technique is only true if every single resume you send is a solid fit for the advertised position. While you may be capable of handling a wide variety of jobs, the employer will most likely interview the candidate who has the most direct experience and past success in the relevant niche.
If you want to maximize the effectiveness of your applications, you must be clear on your best-fit position. This may seem scary - after all, our brains are wired for loss aversion, and the thought that you are taking options off the table can be terrifying.
In exchange for narrowing your options, this job search technique allows you to gain the ability to tailor your resume (and LinkedIn profile) to become an obvious choice for your potential employer. You also get back valuable time – with fewer relevant positions to consider, you will be sending fewer applications. Lastly, you minimize the emotional burnout that comes from sending out 50 resumes and not getting a single interview.
2. Be smarter than a computer.
Many companies use resume scanning software. If you do not make it past the digital gatekeeper, you will never get in front of a human being. This can cause a lot of job search frustration.
How do you beat a computer? By using one. This is an efficient job search technique that everyone should use.
Step one: run the job description through a word-cloud generator (I like Wordle). You are looking for the words that pop on the word-cloud. Bingo – you now have a good guess for the words that the scanning filters will use for gatekeeping. Now, incorporate these words into your resume and cover letter (in an organic way – remember that you are writing for humans, not just for robots!) As a final check, run the edited resume and cover letter through the word-cloud generator before you send them off to be sure that your emphasis is where you want it.
Even if your employer does not use an automated scanner, plan on the hiring manager visually scanning (not carefully reading) your resume. Strategic use of keywords cannot hurt you.
3. Spend time understanding the job description.
Now that you have fewer potential job openings to apply to, you have the luxury of dedicating time and effort to researching them first.
In a perfect world, you have a solid job description at the beginning of the application process. A good job description lists the expected duties and tasks, and does not stop there. It includes key expected accomplishments for the position holder over the first 12-24 months, a clear list of must-have skills. It should also offer insight into the biggest challenge the department or the company is facing – and how the candidate will contribute to solving it.
If you do not have a great job description, get one. A great job search technique in this case is to call HR or the hiring manager, explain that you are applying for the open position, and ask for a formal job description document or 10 minutes of their time to clarify specific questions. The more you know about the position, the better you are able to tailor your application. Plus, you get bonus points for due diligence and resourcefulness.
4. Consider using a two-column cover letter.
If you are not already using it, consider trying out a two-column (or T-format) cover letter.
The basic components of the two-column cover letter remain similar to the traditional cover letter. In the opening, you introduce yourself and state your interest in the position and the company. In the middle, you highlight why you are a great fit. In closing, you show your enthusiasm for the job, and present a call to action.
The middle part is where the two-column structure can help you shine. In the left column, list the position requirements (you will find them in the job description). In the right column, address how your past experience and skills are a perfect fit. This layout and common job search technique gives you an opportunity to demonstrate the alignment between job requirements and your qualifications. A busy hiring manager, who is looking at your cover letter between a meeting that ran late, a skipped lunch and a presentation that must be revised for a Board presentation starting in 10 minutes, will thank you.
Even if you choose to go with a different cover letter format, thinking through the degree of the fit between the position and your experience is good preparation for the interview.
5. Have a fresh look at your resume summary section.
Your goal is to communicate (in two to four lines) your ability to do the job well (or learn it quickly), and your motivation. Remember that this section is the first one that the hiring manager scans, so make it impactful. Use those “big” word-cloud words, and the information you uncovered from the job description and the conversations with the HR manager, to tailor your summary and position you as a good fit.
6. Use accomplishment statements in your resume.
Your skills, technical qualifications and certificates may get you a second look – but at the end of the day, the hiring manager needs results, not just a box of tools and methodologies. Accomplishment statements are the right job search technique to use in this case, and they demonstrate that you have a solid track record of making a difference.
This is an intimidating idea for many candidates, especially those who are not comfortable with being in the spotlight and accepting credit. Here are a few questions to get your thinking started.
Have you been promoted?
Did you make a business process better?
Did you increase revenue (or cut expenses)?
Did you help others grow, as demonstrated by their promotion and professional success?
Remember that your resume is not the place to be shy. Consider re-framing the task: demonstrating accomplishments is the price you pay to be of service to a great company.
7. Boost your networking.
Don't underestimate the use of your professional and personal networks as job search techniques. This includes taking a hard look at your LinkedIn profile. Review your relative rating compared to others in your field, and tailor your profile content to employ keywords that matter most to your potential employer (word-cloud software is handy for this task).
If you have not already done this, create a customized email signature with a link to your LinkedIn profile. That way, every email you send becomes a personal branding piece!
8. Dedicate time to recharge and recover.
Lastly, remember to take some time to restore your energy. While it may not seem immediately relevant to your job search, nutrition and rest matter. Try to eat naturally occurring foods, and limit processed foods and caffeine. Do things that recharge your batteries and buoy your spirit. For some, it may be spending time with family and friends, for others – a solitary walk in nature. Read, enjoy a hobby, and get physical with an exercise routine. These actions can have a big effect on avoiding job search frustration.
Those who think exercise and hobbies are a luxury when you are in active job search mode, please take a moment to reconsider. When all you have to focus on is your career search, any apparent lack of traction can easily spin you into despair. If your progress seems to be stalling, use this checklist to reassess your strategy, and don't give up. Find fun and meaningful activities to fill your schedule, and engineer every day to include at least one thing that gives you joy. That way, you can be sure to arrive at your interviews energized, centered, and clear. What employer doesn't want that?
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Photo credit: Kate Hiscock/Flickr