Saturday, March 13, 2010

If You Hit a Wall in Your Job Search

Looking for a job isn’t the most fun a person can have. On occasion, no matter what you have tried on your own, you hit a wall; you have gone as far as you can and you may even feel like giving up. Here is a plan to get you over that wall.

When thinking of a wall that is hard to get over, think about the high, wooden wall the military uses as a part of their obstacle courses. Even if you have never been in the military, you have seen these walls in movies such as “An Officer and a Gentleman”.

If you are standing against the wall, you can’t get the momentum needed to get over it; you have to take a few steps back. Take a few steps back and get the momentum you need to get over the wall in your job search.

Step 1

Too many job seekers begin the search by updating their resume and jumping straight into the search. That is like standing next to the wall. Before updating the resume, there are actually 3 steps that every job seeker must take first to be successful in the job search.

Since you’re up against the wall, take three steps back so you can build some momentum. Step back one step, two steps, and three. Now you are where you need to be to get the momentum to get over the wall.

Now you’ll take your first step forward.

1) First you need to understand how much the job market has changed. One change is that good employees are being let go where previously only poor performers were.

Although you were able to find a job previously without much trouble, the rules for the job market have changed and the old approach won’t work as well. You need to adapt and retool. Read Spencer Johnson’s book “Who Moved My Cheese” and this article on the new job market:

2) You have to give yourself the time you need to process the loss of the job. Humans are made to go through certain stages of grieving in order to heal. If you don’t take the time now to process the loss, it will come out when you can least afford it, like in the middle of an interview through your body language.

3) Some job seekers need help with pressure points: keeping the roof over the head, food on the table, and a car in the driveway. You may also need to deal with family dynamics that are impacted because of the job loss. There is a dedicated phone number in the US for people when they need assistance with these pressure points. The number 211 is the United Way. They will ask you for your zip code and the type of assistance you need and connect you with an organization that can help. You would not hesitate to call 911 if the house was on fire because you realize there are times you need the help of others. If you need help, don’t hesitate to call 211.

Share these links with your friends, spouse, and parents so they understand more about the new job market and how to be supportive of you:

4) If you still struggle with a poor or deflated attitude, you need to do more. You can’t proceed without a good attitude. There are several books and tips for improving your attitude. Keith Harrell’s “Attitude is Everything” and Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” are two good resources. Getting at least 20 minutes of sunshine a day, getting out of the house and helping others, and counting your blessing are measures you can take to help maintain a good attitude. Attitude is a choice, choose a good one.

Step 2 will help you realize how valuable you are so when you are ready, step forward.

Step 2

Now that you understand the new realities of the job market, you have processed the loss, and you have gotten help for pressure points, you are ready to move forward.

Looking for a job is exactly like selling a product. In this case the product is your skills and accomplishments. You know that to sell a product – say a computer – you have to know how it works and what makes it better than the competition’s. Too many job seekers do not know their product and how to articulate their competitive advantage; they hope it is automatically apparent to the hiring manager. The people who are successful in this job market have taken the time to discover their competitive advantage, they include it in their marketing materials (in the resume and on the business card), and articulate it when they need to (while networking and interviewing).

If you updated your marketing materials before taking the time to study the product (you), then your marketing materials and your sales pitch (interview answers) will miss the mark. You have to understand how you work and what makes you better than your competition.

You are unique and accomplished. For this step, take the time to inventory your skills & abilities, accomplishments (in STAR format), your interests, your values, education, training, and certifications. In this case the word “inventory” means take the time to discover them and write them down.

1) Gather some of this information by asking others. Most of us minimize in ourselves what comes easy to us. Because it comes easily to us we think it is no big deal but that is the thing that makes us unique. Other people will see what is not apparent to you.

2) Leverage your past performance reviews for prior accomplishments and strengths.

3) Take assessments that capture your strengths and personality. The Department of Labor offers some assessments and there are others that are available on-line for free.

When the hiring manager asks what your strengths are, do not give the same answers everyone else gives “I’m a people person; I’m organized; blah blah blah”. In order to identify and articulate your individual strengths and stand out as a candidate, take the assessment that is available on-line when you purchase the book “Strengths Finder 2.0” by Tom Rath.

4) Using a list of behavioral questions and the interview questions you fear the most, such as “why did you leave that company”, work up STARs to address each. When asked your weaknesses or the time you have failed at something, hiring managers are looking to see if you are self-aware and have put things in place to never repeat the same mistakes or to minimize the impact of your weaknesses on the organization.

For information about STARs go to the following link:

Use this information to power up your resume, to articulate your competitive advantages in an interview, and to remind yourself how accomplished you are, to keep you going when things get a little slow.

When you take the time to understand and articulate your value, you will see a new energy and greater results in the job search. The momentum is building so go to step 3.

Step 3

As you continue to build that momentum, you must understand who is hiring and where you want to work. Although there are times you may feel like you would be willing to work anywhere, doing anything, you will not be happy just anywhere. Look at former companies and former bosses for what you liked the best and least about each; you will start to see a pattern. That information is crucial for knowing what companies to target and interview questions to ask to be sure this is the right company for you.

Most large metropolitan cities have a business publication; for instance in Atlanta it is the Atlanta Business Chronicle and in Chicago it is Crain’s. In addition to a 52 week publication that is packed full of hot-off-the-press news about businesses (who is moving to town, who is launching a new product), most of the business publications also compile a Book of Lists that job seekers should use to compile the list of target companies. A focused, targeted job search is more successful.

Industry networking meetings are also a good place to find out what is happening in local companies in your industry.

The Wall

Okay, here you are at the wall again. Let’s look at ways to get over it.

First let’s secure a cargo net to the wall; it will help you get your footing. Networking (net – get it?) is the best way to find job openings and land that job. Networking is how you will differentiate yourself from others and from the hundreds or thousands of resumes that are received for every on-line ad.

Job seekers who spend most of their time applying to ads on the web are just bumping their head against the wall. Most of the available jobs are not even posted and for the jobs that are, your resume is just one in a pile and may not even be seen by the powers to be. Even if your resume is seen, they have no better feel for you initially than anyone else.

You want to be a known entity. This will always give you an advantage over the other guy who is just a piece of paper. Other people are out there willing to help you, so get out from behind the computer and network.

Sometimes you need a boost up to get a good footing on the wall. The job search can seem lonely and aimless. If you want to receive encouragement, if you need accountability, if you want fresh ideas on what else to try, professional help with your marketing materials, and to practice and get feedback on how you interview, consider partnering with a job search coach. There are affordable options available.

If you hit a wall in your job search, don’t give up. Take a few steps back, choose a good attitude, inventory and learn to articulate your competitive advantage, identify your target market, grow and leverage your network, and partner with a job search coach and you will scale that wall in no time.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, a real treasure chest of information. Thanks, Judi, for the great advice.