I can't find a job... What should I do?
Where are you lost or stuck in your job search? This guide is a self-assessment exercise combined with practical tips to help you get unstuck and move forward towards landing your dream job.
There are plenty of smart, successful people who struggle with finding jobs and/or a satisfying career. Why is this? Many times, they don’t know how to look for work. Most people have never been taught how to find a new job. So they do the things that they “think” they should do — applying for positions online, posting their résumé on job boards, and even creating a LinkedIn profile (even if they’re not sure what to do with it). But when they don’t get the results they want, they get stuck. With no immediate results, it’s easy to get frustrated. Many times, they won’t hear anything back at all from their applications, so they’re not sure how to move forward.
Before we look at the reasons why you might be lost or stuck, ask yourself some “bigger picture” questions:
People who are most successful in finding — and landing — the job they want have several things in common:
If your job search isn’t working, it’s time to do something different. Treat your job search as a project, with defined objectives, an action plan, and a timeline. Ask someone you trust (a spouse, friend, another jobseeker, or a career coach or counselor) to be your accountability partner — someone who will support, encourage, and motivate you in your job search.
The first step is to figure out where you’re stuck.
There are several areas where you might be having difficulty. If you are having trouble in more than one area, start with first reason and “fix” that before you move on to the next area.
Don’t Know What You Want?
Stop and Engage in Self-Examination. A successful job search requires that you identify and articulate your “career vision” — the type of work environment, location and lifestyle, and job you want — so that when you look for potential job opportunities, you can see if it will be a good fit, based on your identified values.
Author Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” The same is true in your job search. People who say, “I just want a job, any job” will actually have a harder time finding a job than someone who knows what they want!
With that in mind:
2. What am I not so good at?
3. What do I like doing?
4. What skills do I need to update in order to stay current?
2. Save money.
3. Save time.
4. Make work easier.
5. Solve a specific problem.
6. Be more competitive.
7. Build relationship / an image.
8. Expand business.
9. Attract new customers.
10. Retain existing customers.
Think about how you’re able to help an employer meet these “employer buying motivators.” Once you’re able to define who you are and who you want to work for, then move on to the next step.
Not Getting Interviews? Re-Examine Your Résumé
A professionally written résumé is ideally suited for one particular job target. This may be a specific job title (“administrative assistant”) or several jobs that are similarly suited — for example, senior accountant/finance manager/chief financial officer. If you’re not getting calls for interviews, your résumé may be the issue.
Take a look at your résumé:
If you wrote the résumé yourself — or had a friend or relative write it — consider having it reviewed by a professional résumé writer who can give you objective advice about whether it meets today’s standards for an interview-ready résumé. The process of having your résumé written by a professional résumé writer can be eye-opening. Most résumé writers will work with you to identify your “personal brand” (what makes you unique as a jobseeker) and collect strong accomplishments that will help define how you can be an asset to your next employer as part of the résumé development process.
If it’s not the résumé or job target, it may be your job search tactics. One definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
That leads to the next area where you may be stuck.
Assess How You’re Conducting Your Job Search
Once you have your résumé and cover letter, the next step is to get them in the hands of a decision-maker who has the authority to interview you — and, hopefully, offer you the job (or at least advance your job search).
There are five major ways to search for a job.
1. Applying for Job Postings Online
This is where most jobseekers spend their time, but most people won’t find their dream job by applying for posted positions. Research suggests that only 2-4% of jobseekers land a job using Internet job boards. Most large companies receive between 200 and 10,000 résumés a month — the majority of these come from online applications for jobs they’ve posted.
There are many places where jobs are posted online. These can include the hiring company’s website or LinkedIn Company Page, niche websites (like www.Dice.com for information technology jobs, or www.JobsInLogistics.com), aggregator sites (such as www.Monster.com, www.CareerBuilder.com, or www.Indeed.com), social media (some companies will post job openings on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), or even www.Craigslist.com.
The aggregator sites — also known as the “big boards” — aren’t as effective as they used to be. Listing fees have increased while success rates have declined. However, you shouldn’t discount them entirely. If you see a job posting on a big board, go directly to the employer’s web site and see if the position is listed there as well. By applying through the company’s web site, you’ll not only get the chance to research the company, you might be able to identify a hiring decision-maker directly. And if you are able to find the hiring manager’s name, follow up your online application with a résumé and cover letter by mail. But remember, once a position is advertised, the competition for it can be overwhelming.
2. Responding to Newspaper Ads
Most jobs posted in newspapers are for lower salary positions (under $30,000/year) but that is not always the case, so it can be worth your while to spend some of your time finding and applying for jobs you see advertised in print publications. You may find jobs advertised in your local newspaper or in a trade journal for your industry.
Newspaper advertising is expensive for employers, though, so you’ll find a lot of companies with openings aren’t advertising them in the newspaper.
However, the newspaper can be a useful tool in identifying job “leads” — companies that hire people to do the kind of job you want. You may find you get more mileage by reading the newspaper or trade journal to find companies that are expanding and growing. You’ll also find these kinds of companies profiled in the Business section of the newspaper, in magazines like Inc., Forbes, and Fortune, and in local business journals. (Locate local business journals here: http://www.bizjournals.com/).
3. Employment Agencies/Recruiters
For certain kinds of jobs, companies pay third parties (recruiters or employment agencies) to screen and recommend potential employees.
These jobs usually fall into three areas:
In exchange for finding candidates, screening them, and recommending the “best fits,” an employer will pay a fee that is usually equal to one-third of the employee’s base salary for the first year to the recruiter or employer, upon a successful hire.
The most important thing to recognize about working with recruiters is that they work for the hiring company, not for you. They only get paid if they make a successful placement. Because you’re not paying for the service, sending a résumé to one of these companies is a good idea, but it won’t always result in success — or even a return phone call.
You can find recruiters in the phone book (under “Employment Agencies”) or online. Use Google to search: Recruiter and [city name] and [job title].
Or look in the newspaper classifieds or your industry trade journal for recruiting firms advertising for candidates in your skill area. You can also connect with recruiters or employment agencies atjob boards or through LinkedIn.
Remember, the employer pays the recruiter fee, so you should never be asked to pay a fee to work with a real recruiter. Don’t be fooled by people claiming to be recruiters who ask you to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to work with them.
It’s fine to work with multiple recruiters. The more recruiter contacts you have, the larger your network, and the greater the number of opportunities that will present themselves. Recruiter relationships are generally not exclusive. Start with 2-3 and expand your contacts if you’re not getting results. But be honest if you’re asked who else you are working with.
There are also variations of the employment agency you may come across. For example, if you are employed in a union trade, your union hall may function as an employment agency, offering connections to union jobs. And if you are between jobs and want to be hired as a day laborer, there are certain employment agencies that specialize in extremely short-term positions (usually one day, or a few days at a time).
And, don’t discount the resources offered by CareerOneStop (http://www.careeronestop.org/) or American Job Center (http://jobcenter.usa.gov/). Local or state employment agencies can also help connect you to employers in your area.
Networking remains one of the best job search strategies you can use to find your next job — or your dream job — but it’s probably the least understood method. Many jobseekers think networking means alerting the people you know that you want a new job. But it’s more than that. Your network is most valuable when you can ask for help in identifying job leads, obtaining information, getting advice, and/or making referrals. For example, if you want to work at a specific company, ask people in your network if they know anyone who currently works for — or used to work for — “Company X.” Then, ask for an introduction to that person, and ask them about the company, culture, and hiring practices.
It’s important to actively develop and cultivate your network. This can include: friends, relatives, parents of children’s friends, parents of your friends, relatives of your friends, club members, cousins, neighbors, your doctor, financial advisor, attorney, current and previous co-workers and managers, suppliers, professional association contacts, clients, and community contacts (civic leaders, clergy, etc.).
Here are some more opportunities to develop your network:
The single biggest mistake most jobseekers make is not asking for help from their network. People want to help you — so let them!
5. Direct Contact
Tap into the so-called “hidden job market” by using the direct contact job search method. Remember: Companies hire people to solve their problems. Use the “employer buying motivators” list from earlier in this guide to identify the specific ways you can help a prospective employer — and then don’t wait for a help wanted ad to be posted to offer your services. How do you do this? Use the other four methods for ideas:
It’s estimated that anywhere from 30 to 75 percent of jobs are not advertised. How are these positions being filled? Through networking and direct contact. How do you make direct contact? Call, use your network for an introduction, send an email, or write a targeted cover letter and send it with your résumé. You can also use résumé distribution services — like ResumeSpider or ResumeRabbit — to send unsolicited résumés to targeted contacts.
But the real key to success is following up. When using direct contact, persistence is the key!
Do your homework about companies you are interested in. Always research the company. The basic information you need is: Who to direct your résumé to within the company and whether the company has jobs (or job possibilities) that match your area of interest, education, and/or expertise. You can’t just send a general letter to “HR” or one addressed to “President, ABC Company.” You have to send it to a person. The best people to contact are managers and executives.
Every unsolicited résumé you send should be accompanied by a personalized, targeted cover letter. You are simply “spamming” potential employers when you mass mail 10, 20, or 100 résumés without researching them individually and customizing a cover letter. Even if you have the most creative résumé, without supporting documentation, you’re probably wasting your time.
Instead, take the time to develop a customized cover letter listing how your specific skills and attributes can be an asset to the company.
Next, be prepared for your job search. Make sure you keep a record of the résumés you’ve sent, using a follow-up log. When you send out a résumé, mention what your next step is — for example, “I will be contacting you within the week.” Make a note in your calendar and then follow up as promised. When you’re “spamming” employers, you lose the ability to closely follow up on the résumés you’ve sent. Ten résumés and cover letters that you follow up on are better than 100 résumés with no follow-up.
Follow up on letters by making a phone call. If you call and don’t get a response, send an email. Leverage your network to get personal introductions. Your efforts will yield interviews. You can dramatically increase your chances of being interviewed and receiving a job offer by following up with both your network and the person with the power to hire you in an effort to positively influence the selection process.
In your job search, you shouldn’t rule out any job search tactic — just consider how effective it is, and spend more of your time on high-impact tactics like networking and direct contact.
Getting Interviews, But Not Job Offers?
If you’re getting interviews, your résumé is doing its job — assuming you’re getting interviews for the types of jobs you want. But what you do before, during, and after the interview can increase your chances of getting the offer.
Before the interview, do your homework! Review the company’s website and learn more about the key personnel, the work they do, their clients, and potential areas where you might be an asset. Google the company. Look for recent news articles about the company. Review the company’s social media profiles (if they exist). Check out the company on Glassdoor.com (www.glassdoor.com) and see what current and former employees have to say. Ask your network for help learning more about the targeted company. If you know your interviewer’s name, Google that too. Check out his or her LinkedIn profile and social media accounts. And prepare a list of targeted questions to ask in the interview — 3-5 questions that demonstrate you’ve done your homework and that, when answered, will give you additional insight into the company.
In the interview, listen carefully. Your interviewer is assessing your fit with the company, but you are doing the same. You want to make sure that this job is right for you, too! (Remember, we’re looking for the “right job” not just “any job.”) Practice your interview skills too!
Be prepared to give a “closing statement.” If you’re given the opportunity in the interview, be ready to summarize (in 90 seconds or less) why you think you’d be a good fit for the position. If possible, incorporate in the additional information you’ve learned in the interview itself! Prepare the key points of this closing statement in advance, but practice it until it sounds natural, not canned or rehearsed. And before the interview ends, ask if the interviewer needs anything else from you to help with the decision — a list of references, work samples, a 30-60-90 day plan for what you’d do in the first three months on the job, etc.
And don’t forget that it’s okay to specifically express your interest in working for the company! At the end of the interview, ask what the next step is. You want to know if there is another round of interviews, and when it will begin, or when the hiring decision will be made. Ask if it’s okay to follow-up — and if they’d prefer phone or email?
Immediately after the interview, send a follow-up/thank you note. Handwritten notes are always appreciated, especially if you can mail it the same day (and the hiring timeline allows sufficient time for it to be sent and received). Otherwise, an email follow-up is fine. Express your appreciation for the opportunity to meet, reiterate your specific interest in the job and the company, and confirm the “next step” — whether that’s information you’ve promised to provide, or what you’re expecting from the interviewer.
If you don’t hear back from the interviewer in the time you expected to hear from him or her, it’s okay to follow-up. Just remember that hiring often takes much longer than expected, so don’t be a pest. Be respectful in your follow-up efforts. (“You had mentioned that you thought the second round of interviews would start this week, and I just wanted to make sure that you had everything you needed from me to assist in your decision-making.”)
If you don’t end up getting another interview — or the job offer — try to follow-up with the interviewer to get feedback — specifically, why another candidate was a better fit. You may not be able to obtain this information (busy hiring managers may not take the time to respond), but if you can get this type of feedback, it can be helpful in your overall job search. If you can’t reach the hiring manager, watch who is ultimately hired, and assess that person’s professional profile and see if there was something that might indicate a key qualification (perhaps a certification, or a past employer) that might have set them apart. Sometimes you just won’t be able to tell, however, and you must simply move forward to the next opportunity.
Get in the habit of rewarding yourself for effort, regardless of your results. If you put in the effort, eventually the results will follow.
Mandy Fard is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW, CMRW) and Recruiter with decades of experience in assisting job seekers, working directly with employers in multiple industries, and writing proven-effective resumes.