Getting a job in today’s market is understandably a challenge. Jobs are scarce, so there are dozens, maybe hundreds of people applying for the job you want and they may be as qualified or more qualified than you are. With this type of competition, you need to be on top of your game. You need to shine.
How can you stand out from the rest? Focus on your strengths. Take the time to impress the hiring manager. Take the time to prepare an impeccable resume, a compelling cover letter, and most importantly, prepare yourself for greatness.
KNOW WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR
First of all, know exactly what you are looking for in terms of a position. What are the exact positions for which you are qualified? What are the titles? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, do some research. Use job search engines (monster.com, careerbuilder.com, etc.) and type in the skills you possess then record the titles of positions for that type of work. I suggest printing out some of these job descriptions so you can use their professional wording for your own resume and they might remind you of other valuable duties you have accomplished in the past. Also, make a list of the companies that are hiring these positions. You’ll want to follow up with every company in your industry once you’re actively contacting people.
KNOW WHERE TO LOOK
Now you are equipped with the knowledge to research the companies you can work for. Use these titles and skills to do an internet search for all companies hiring these positions in the area in which you are willing to travel. You may want to consider contacting offices beyond 10-20 miles of where you live. They may have an opportunity down the road that would tempt you to commute or move.
CREATE YOUR PROFESSIONAL NETWORK
Now that you know what you want and where you can find it, begin creating your professional network. Networking is the #1 way people get jobs. If you don’t already have a solid network of professionals in your field, this is a priority for you. Talk to everyone you know and tell them what you are looking for. You never know who will know the right person to help you get your foot in the door.
Most jobs are found through networking, not job boards or want ads, for sure. ABC: always be communicating what you are looking for. This is a full-time job in itself. People generally like to help others, so if someone you speak to has a lead, they will be more than happy to help you. Remember, help other people along the way too. This is how professionals network—they get others what they want so later others will give them what they want.
CREATE AN ONLINE PROFESSIONAL NETWORK
Create a LinkedIn account. Regardless of what field you are in, you can find other professionals in your field or a related field who may be able to make an introduction to a hiring manager. To help you create your profile, search for other professionals with the titles you have on your list and check out their profiles. Again, you can use some of their information to help you write your profile and/or resume.
Make sure to invite all former colleagues, supervisors, co-workers, friends, family, and anyone you have ever met to join your network. You’ll be surprised how many people will be happy to connect with you because they may benefit from your contacts. You can also request that they write recommendations for you on your profile.
When you look at other people’s profiles, scroll down to the bottom and look at what “groups” they joined. You can also join these industry groups and begin a dialogue with other members in the group. This is a great way to build rapport and eventually gain a viable professional connection.
Create a Facebook account. You can use this in case potential employers search online for you. If they find your profile shows that you are active in the community and that you look like a fun and happy person with lots of friends, you also become likeable. Do not post photos that you wouldn’t want an employer to see. Be careful that your friends don’t “tag” you in a picture that would turn off potential employers (ask your friends to remove the tag if they do).
Use Facebook to promote yourself in a professional and positive light. If you do volunteer work (I highly encourage this), you can showcase your efforts. If you run marathons, attend charity events, or have an unusual or special hobby, this will present you in a good light to potential employers.
While you’re on Facebook, you can look up companies that you like and follow their events and activities. You can get to know the names of some of the employees and comment on their posts. Eventually…and you know where I’m going with this…you can connect with someone on the inside and ask about who does the hiring and other useful information about the company.
Keep a job search journal. Write down the name, position, and company of every person you talk to as well as the date you spoke to them, special details about them (to personalize future conversations), their number, and any relevant information. Keep all business cards (I tape mine to my work journal so they are organized chronologically). Also, write down the names of any switchboard operators, assistants, or receptionists. They often have the power to put you in contact with the right person. If you are nice to them, they can give you a lot of inside information.
WRITING THE RESUME
Please look for my upcoming blog that focuses on successful resume writing. In the meantime, here are some highlights.
Make a list of every position you have ever held in your life. Then include the job duties you completed. Also, make an exhaustive list of all the skills you have acquired. Include skills you have acquired outside of your professional career. If you have a hobby or talent, there is a skill there that is transferable, which means you can transfer this skill to any position you hold. For example, I feel very comfortable meeting new people, so I can translate that into “excellent oral communication skills.”
If you have trouble creating a good list of your professional skills or traits, ask your former colleagues and supervisors for their input.
Remember to list your job duties in terms of what you accomplished quantitatively, not just what you have done. You want to persuade the hiring manager that you will bring value to the company based on the value you brought to prior employers. “I taught 7th grade language arts” is not as compelling as “I increased students’ state-mandated tests by 50%.”
Remember to use job search engines, other LinkedIn profiles, and the company’s job description (see the “careers” section on their website) to help you word your resume professionally and accurately. Most importantly, make sure your descriptions are relevant to the position for which you are applying.
Be succinct. If your descriptions are too long, you run the risk of boring employers. Also, it will appear to be fluff. Use powerful, descriptive words and get to the point.
And this is the most important point about a resume—IT MUST BE IMPECCABLE! If you cannot correct all misspellings, grammar and punctuation errors, as well as formatting inconsistencies, you give the impression that you don’t care enough to do your best. That’s not what any employer is looking for. This will rule you out before they get far enough in your resume to be interested. Ask a respected friend or colleague to read your resume. The more input you can get, the better. It is easy to overlook mistakes in your own work.
Create a basic template and tailor a resume to each position for which you apply. If you include the terms they list on their job description, you will appear to have exactly what they are looking for.
THE COVER LETTER
Again, please stay tuned for my upcoming blog that focuses on writing a compelling cover letter. Below are some highlights.
Many employers only read the cover letter, so yours better be exceptional. Make sure that you keep it short and to the point.
The first paragraph introduces you so it should be powerful. Of course, state the name of the position for which you are applying, but your second line should disclose the most exceptional traits or experience about yourself that are unique and that are crucial to the position. This can include the years of experience you have under your belt, your outstanding communication skills, or whatever special talent that you are confident about.
Your second paragraph should demonstrate examples of how your specific experience qualifies you for the job. Remember, use exact words from the employer’s job description to write about your skills and experience. This will catch their eye.
Your final paragraph requests an interview and provides your contact information.
After you have an organized list of companies that are in your industry, begin the calls. Start by calling any contacts you have made on Facebook or LinkedIn. Call all your friends and colleagues and ask if you can call their friends. Or you can call company switchboards and ask for the names of managers or supervisors in the departments that hire your position. Be charming; they are your lifeline.
Once you get the right person on the line (you may have to try a few times and shimmy your way through a few people such as assistants before you actually make contact—be persistent), ask if you can have a few minutes of their time and keep it to a few minutes! Introduce yourself (you should have a 30-second or 60-second pitch about your experience and skills and what you are looking for) and ask if the company has any current positions available or if they anticipate any in the future. They won’t all say yes, but that’s ok. You’ve made contact. Keep this person’s name, number, and extension and follow up in 2-4 weeks. Remember to record any details from your discussion to personalize your next conversation.
For those who have a position available or opening up, first ask if there are any special requirements they are looking for or if there is a job description available. You should already have looked at the career section on their website so only ask this if there is no job opportunity available online. Ask for the name of the hiring manager. If they give this to you, that’s who you contact to submit your resume for consideration. If they do not give you this information, call back and try someone else, or ask if you can send your resume to this contact or if there is a specific contact in human resources. This is a last resource, however. Many a good candidate is looked over because HR failed to recognize talent that fell outside the job description.
Once you submit your resume, follow up the next day (if you’ve spoken to the hiring manager) or a few days later (if your contact will pass your resume to the hiring manager). Make sure to give your contact a couple of days either to review your resume or to pass it along to the right colleague. When you call back, thank your contact again for speaking with you and ask if he or she has heard of any feedback. Also ask when you can call again and who you should contact.
Beyond this, use discretion. If no positions are popping up, you may elect to follow up with an email. However, if you don’t mind making short follow up calls, then do so. Once a week might be too often but once a month might cause you to miss an opportunity. Every two to three weeks is about right. And remember, be friendly with this contact. Be polite and inquire into his or her well-being, and don’t spend too much time on yourself.
If you find you’re not getting anywhere with these calls, then try a different approach. Request an informational interview with someone either in the position to hire you or someone who holds the position you want. Make it a short meeting, maybe 15 minutes. Your objective is to learn about the company, the position, the culture, and to introduce yourself in case a position opens up down the road. You may give your contact your resume. Record details for future conversations and remember to keep in touch. After your meeting, thank your contact for his or her time with a thank you note. Then a few weeks down the road, you can follow up about developments.
Before you begin scheduling interviews, become an expert on yourself. Make a list and study all your achievements, professional and otherwise, so that you are prepared if you are asked about your accomplishments. Also make a list of failures. Make sure to include how you dealt with or overcame these failures. This tells employers that you can deal with adversity, which of course, is a part of business. Also list times you went above and beyond the call of duty. This communicates that you are a team player and that you possess a great work ethic. Finally, know your long-term goals and how this company fits in with your plans.
Know the company for which you are applying. Find out: how old it is, what areas it covers, what its strengths are, how big the company is, if there are other offices, who their clients are, and most importantly, know exactly why you want to work for this company.
Be perfect. Be clean. Have freshly brushed teeth, a perfectly dry-cleaned suit and be perfectly groomed: clean or perfectly manicured nails, perfectly done hair (both men and women). Wear appropriate business attire: a suit, nylons, no open-toed shoes, a tie, etc. Unless the company culture is known for being casual, then you can show up in khakis without a business jacket. But be absolutely sure about this.
Turn off your cell phone. Don’t chew gum. Don’t make any off color or lewd jokes. Be polite to everyone you meet. They all have input toward the decision to hire you.
Make sure to make eye contact and ask questions about your potential position and the company. This is a conversation. You want to make sure this is a company you want to work for. You may even ask when they expect to make a decision or when you can expect to hear from them. Also, it shows you have genuine interest in the company and the job. Do not badmouth any previous employers. Find a “nice” way to explain why things didn’t work out. Changes of residence or returning to school are perfectly acceptable reasons to quit a company. Saying your boss was a “jerk” or you “hated working there” will make you look bad. Be positive in everything you say.
And definitely shake hands (firmly and with a smile) upon meeting and at the end of the interview.
Immediately (as in the same day) follow up with a thank you note. I don’t encourage a thank you email; I send thank you notes. They are more personal, authentic, and they reflect the fact that you took the time to write and mail it. In the thank you note, you can emphasize any points you made in your interview or if you forgot to bring up something, you can include that information.
If you don’t get the job, contact the interviewer and ask what you could have done better or simply why you didn’t get the job. Often, there is another candidate who is more qualified, but maybe the person will be honest and let you know that you made comments that are not aligned with the company’s mission, or maybe you lacked a specific skill (in which case you can work on improving that or take a class for future interviews).
While temp agencies and recruiters have helped some people in the past, I consider these a last resort. Few people hired for temp work get hired full-time, though it does happen. I just wouldn’t put all my eggs in this basket. And recruiters tend to focus on the most qualified candidates in specific fields because they get a bigger commission for bringing in the best. If you feel you are that good, give it a shot. Anything that gets you a job is the right thing to do.
Job search engines are not particularly helpful in that hundreds or thousands of people view the same listing as you and therefore, your competition is HUGE.
Job fairs have less than a 10% hiring rate. Again, you can try them, but I think your time is better spent on directly contacting potential employers.
If you have a skill that you can market online, go for it. Start a small business and build yourself a website to promote it. Or put an ad on craigslist about the service you provide. You might get a few interested people who are willing to pay you for that service.
Best of luck in your job search! Remember to be persistent, charming, and optimistic! Keep a positive attitude (employers will pick up on any negativity you generate)! You will get a great job if you commit 100% to your job search!