Labor Day is the time to consider and help those without jobs. Regrettably that is a huge percentage of people around us. People we know and people we don't know. More and more frequently I am encountering people from my former lives and people who are in my extended network who have endured an interminable and for some, brutal process of looking for a job. The time and effort to get a job from a layoff, termination, or job transition can be a marathon of frustration and exasperation. The toll this process takes on ones psyche, confidence, and self dignity can not be exaggerated.This is where doing the same thing over and over is insanity. Let's be honest, most people have never been taught or know how to conduct a job search in good times. So looking for work when competition is furious requires a much different mindset and approach.
Many approach this like a video game. They are under the hypnotic trance that the internet will find them a job. They are seat belted to their home computer and go through the maze of job sites over and over and over, and impulsively lob resumes at them. It has become a game of numbers where quantity matters and you want instant gratification. These same people send out FB and Linked in requests without personalizing the invites. Because amassing more impersonal connections will help you win the game but not a job.
I remember a friend who had developed a condominium project for a specific price point and target market. It was not working, people were not buying. As we know, people look at certain price bands that they can afford and avoid other bands as "too low" and "too high". We sat around and discussed discounting strategies, promotional tactics and other ways to essentially lower the price point and move into a lower band. Then someone suggested that the product was positioned poorly and would have less competition if we RAISED the price and re-positioned. We decided before we discounted we would try to retain the value proposition and move into a different band of buying. The condos sold out quickly and the lesson is one of human myopia on both the buy side and the sell side. We operate in narrow bands of behavior based on what everyone else is doing. And in doing so we have forgotten the most important principle of marketing oneself--differentiation. How do we stand out of the pack, the pile of resumes, and separate ourselves from the sea of candidates?
I see this in the job market today where for some reason we gravitate to the common denominator strategies where the great majority of the candidates are operating and competing. See the same thing in college applications. People follow a formula that others told them, they read on the web, or they got a tip at a workshop--and then become the unattractive average. Surveys always tells us that more than 75% of us are above average! So why would we adopt a job search process that your competitors employ? This behavior is proof of the gravitational pull of conformity and the centripetal force of mediocrity that leads to an insurance policy that your job search may never end.
If it works, it is obsolete. (attributed to Marshall McLuhan)
If we agree this market is different then you have to be, think and act differently.
Economic disruptions like this cause irrational behavior. Job seekers who start to second guess the market where they adjust their resumes and their job search process may or may not work. They can lose their way going down the rabbit hole of confusing self-talk and behavior that can distract them from their strengths. Simply put, straying from who you are and what your competences are is risky. Not saying you should not traverse sectors or make major job shifts. But if you are a finance, marketing, or human resources professional with years of experience, you have to play those cards. Otherwise you are reduced to a new grad with a liberal arts education---you can do anything! And how does that differentiate you in the pile of resumes?
The following assumes your resume, your basic understanding of your story (including gaps, challenges and transitions), and your goals are fairly well established. So here are 10 tips to keep you on a pace to to survive the long distance job search:
- Stay positive. Put any semblance of embarrassment, shame, self consciousness and self doubt in a box and lock it in the attic. These demons keep you in a mode that is less willing to ask for help, less able to show your vulnerability, and less of the authentic you.
- Every day is a work day. Your search has to consume the equivalent of a full time position. This is not just playing the job boards, it is the process of getting leads and networking. Energize yourself to go at it every morning.
- Think about your "band of behavior". What types of jobs/opportunities are you willing to take? Remain open and pursue opportunities that make sense but you have never considered. How big of a pay cut are you willing to take? Will you relocate? If you are making a sector transition, are you willing to essentially start over? Expand your band with specificity. In other words, describe all of the attributes of your minimums (we know you want more!) What are your true minimums?
- Stay active. Pursue or maintain volunteer, consulting, pro-bono and/or part time gigs to keep your juices going and to keep a warm place on your resume. Substantive charitable or non-profit volunteer work can be part of your story that fills the time and the gap in your work history.
- Continuous education. Take a class to sharpen your skills and find another networking platform.
- Apply early and often. Apply for everything that interests you AND where you have a real chance to add value. You need the practice interviewing. When in doubt apply. Focused on your goals, you do need leads and options. Even if you are "over-qualified" give the resume reader pause by considering someone who can do the job easily.
- Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. How will you make your resume, your candidacy stand out? The key is who you know. Who you know and who they know.
- Go Face to face. Devote more than half of your search time to meetings or telephone conversations. Get out of your house and talk to people. You have to be able to push yourself and those around you to get out from behind their computers and literally and figuratively "pound the pavement" and "knock on doors". Hopefully you have gone beyond the basic networking and have a good inner circle of supporters. People who know you and you have a trusting relationship with. Have you met with all of them? No you haven't?! Connect and reconnect with your existing network--your relatives, your friends, your former colleagues, and your former bosses.
- Get on the insider track As you expand your connections, you will begin to become aware of positions that are open and not posted. This happens when your focus is also on employers not openings. The biggest mistake is ONLY talking about positions that are posted. Most jobs are like houses in the most coveted neighborhoods, they are not listed, they all start out with private processes that are not made public unless they did not work. The word about a good job is put out to the employer's inner network to talk to the "best" candidates. The only way your name comes up in these searches is if someone you know is aware of it.
- Be introduced and referred This is the most powerful networking and the biggest differentiator. Having influential people you know or meet introduce you to prospective employers is enormously helpful. Instant credibility, good brand management, access to information, and an expansion of your network. Clearly, the ability to drop a name on the cover note of your resume when applying/inquiring for a job may be the biggest differentiator. The bigger the name the hotter your resume becomes. That resume has to be separated from the pile, people have to track it and you get a better chance to get to the next level of consideration. Please don't misunderstand me, you don't need referrals from the C Suite, you need to be referred by an insider. That implied endorsement is big, regardless of the level.
Jobs are opening up everyday behind the curtain and posted on Monster. So persistence and vigilance are essential partners for the longer term job search.
Networking is ALWAYS a long term if not a life time process. A process of staying in touch and exploring opportunities. It is a marathon lifestyle where the tortoise beats the hare every time. Meeting people to appreciate who you know and who you are will energize you. To learn of new opportunities and ways to approach old ones. To keep the mind sharp, the blood pumping and keep the finish line in sight.
Thanks for reading. John