“I spend hours every day on my job search but I’m not getting called to job interviews”
“I’ve applied to hundreds of roles and recruiters don’t give me any feedback on my applications”
“I know I desperately need a new job but I’m so consumed with my current situation, I don’t have capacity to launch a job search”
“Looking for a new job is starting to feel like a job in itself”
“I want to land a new role, but I don’t even know where to begin”
Does this remind you of your job search?
I’ve worked with job-seekers for many years (as a recruiter and now as an International CV Writer and Job Search Strategist) and I’ve heard the above sentiments many times.
The reality is, finding a job is more difficult than most of us would imagine. What’s more, the rules of the game seem to be constantly changing and the advice we’ve received from friends, relatives and from our education often doesn’t seem to work.
So, what do you do? Give up and stay unemployed or stay in a job that is no longer right for you? Well, none of us really want that. Our careers form a huge part of our lives – if you work 40 hours a week, then your work makes up over 35% of your waking hours (and that’s not including your commute!).
Being in a job that you (mostly) enjoy and that you find fulfilling is vital for your overall happiness and well-being. Getting your job search right is not optional, it is an essential skill for a meaningful and satisfying career.
What I want to focus on in this article, is the often-overlooked parts of a job search – the essential steps that most people miss and the stages where I see people go wrong.
I'm confident that as you read this article you'll identify some areas of your job search strategy that you can immediately improve, you'll spot some areas where you have been making common mistakes and come away with a plan that will see you succeed in your job search!
Let's get started.
Step one: Get clear on what job you want
Most people think that the first step in a job search is updating their CV, but if you jump straight to this, you’re missing something even more essential.
When I’m writing a CV for someone the first question I ask them is ‘what role are you hoping this new CV will land you?’.
I ask this before discussing their experience or anything else.
Why? Because how someone answers this question, guides the rest of the discussion. Knowing what job someone wants, helps me to know what parts of their experience are important and the skills we need to explore.
You cannot write a CV before you know what job it’s being written for.
This is because a CV is not designed to be your life story, it’s a marketing document. Its sole purpose is to demonstrate to the reader that you have the relevant skills and experience for the role they are recruiting for.
It’s much easier to market a product when we know who the buyer is and how they intend to use the product. We can cut through the noise and focus on the key benefits to them.
But getting clear on the job you want is about more than getting a clear direction on how to write your CV, it impacts every part of your job search. After all, you could write 5 tailored CVs to 5 totally different roles. That’s not anywhere near job search clarity.
What's on the menu?
Imagine that you are visiting a restaurant and the waiter asks for your order and you reply “I’m starving, just give me anything”.
Well, it’s not very helpful to the waiter. You’re putting the onus on them to choose something for you, and they dont even know what you like.
So, he might simply refuse and ask you to pick one dish. Or, he might pick something at random which is not the dish you really wanted.
This is what happens when you approach your job search by telling people what you do and expecting them to figure out what job you’re suited for.
You need to make a decision about what job you really want and articulate that decision throughout your job search, including on your CV.
You also need a clear goal so that you don’t waste time going after the wrong things. Not all goals are created equal. If your goal is to get a job, that’s too broad. The parameters are too wide so that you can become paralysed with options and end up not achieving that goal at all.
However, if your goal is to get an Office Manager job within a 30-minute commute of where you live, ideally at a company with 50 – 100 employees, that’s a lot clearer. Now you can make a real plan with actionable steps of how to get there.
You can find out what companies meet that brief, you can define your job search criteria, you can tell your network what you’re looking for, and you can tailor all your career documents (CV, cover letter, LinkedIn) to align with that goal.
Getting clear on what job you want is not just about the job title. You should also decide what locations you are open to, what types of companies you want to work at (or don’t want to work at) and what salary level you are looking for. You can of course be flexible and consider roles that don’t meet all these criteria, but starting out, you should know what the ideal target is.
My most important job search was when I re-located to Dubai. I quit my job and sold my house in the UK and moved to Dubai with a suitcase and the hope of starting a new life there. A job was the means of doing that, but I didn’t really care what job I wanted.
During my first week in Dubai, I met with a recruiter who asked me which Emirate (city) I wanted to work in. I told her I didn’t mind, that I would work in any city in the United Arab Emirates.
I thought that my flexibility made me a really strong candidate, but I was wrong. She stopped me and asked if I had even visited all these locations. She said “We’re meeting in Dubai today and you’ve told me you’ve moved to Dubai and you haven’t even been to these other places.
I think you really want to work in Dubai and that if I recommend you for a role in another location, you’ll ultimately turn it down if you get a position in Dubai. I don’t want you to waste my time.” She was right.
I wasn’t really serious about the other locations and I would have been wasting my time and hers if I had applied to those roles. I’m grateful that in that moment she forced me to get clear on what job I wanted. A process I should have done before we met.
Download my free job search questionnaire below to help you define your target role.
Defining your target role is the first essential step in any successful job search, I have devised a number of questions that will help you to clarify exactly what kind of role you are looking to target.
I recommend you download this resource and answer the questions before you even read the rest of this article, defining your target role really is the first step in launching a successful job search.
What if you are a new graduate or have limited work experience?
If you are new to the world of work, then it is totally normal to have no idea what job you want. In fact, I did a poll on LinkedIn where I asked people how they decided on their career path. Out of over 2000 votes, 58% of people said they figured it out by trying different things.
What’s more, the comments were full of stories from people who said that they fell into their career by pursuing apparently random and unconnected opportunities. The best way to figure out what type of work you enjoy, is by getting some experience in the work place.
Most of us have multiple ‘careers’ so starting on one path does not mean that you are destined to do that thing forever.
Don’t ask yourself, “What’s the perfect role that I want to do that will set me on my career path for the rest of my life?” That’s too big a question. What’s more, it’s an impossible one to answer because you probably don’t have enough experience to really know what type of career you would find the most fulfilling.
Instead ask yourself, “What is a job that I would like to try?”. That’s a good starting point and will give you some direction in your job search, which is good for all the reasons I outlined above.
If you don’t know what job you want to try, you could explore the following questions:
- “What type of role could I get with my qualifications?”
- “What types of companies are hiring right now?”
- “Of the types of roles that I could reasonably get, which do I feel most instinctively drawn to?
When we overcomplicate these processes and get scared of making a mistake, we can end up not moving forward at all. So, make a goal and a plan, go after it, and if it isn’t working then change it.
It’s much easier to steer a moving ship. Don’t get stuck because you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life. Most of us still don’t have a clue!
What if you’re looking to career pivot?
If you are someone who has plenty of experience but is unhappy in their career, then this can be a difficult place to be. Most likely, your next career move feels like a significant choice and you want to make sure that the next thing you do is aligned with your values and interests.
If you’re considering a career pivot, or a total overhaul, then be kind to yourself. This process can take time and it’s important that you take the time you need to figure out what the right next step is.
A number of years ago, my husband, Joel, left his job as an Area Manager in the banking industry. It was shortly after the 2008 financial crash and financial services were in a state of turmoil. He was working 6 days a week and most evenings, taking on more and more pressure to hit sales targets and remain compliant in a rapidly changing regulatory environment.
Despite having been very successful and having a clear career path, he knew it wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. But, there was no way he could figure out the path forward whilst working such long hours and with a mind so occupied with his current role. So, he took that brave leap and resigned, not knowing what would come next.
It took a month to decompress and then another month to figure out what he did want to do. After one more month of a focussed job search, he started out on a new career path. Now I know that we don’t all have the option to take three months off work, it’s simply not always possible.
But the process of self-discovery and defining a new direction can take time. And it’s time worth taking. You may also benefit from getting help from others, either trusted friends or relatives or a professional career or life coach.
Whatever you do, take the time to get clarity on your goal before you waste hours of time (and even more energy) on a job search that is unfocussed or heading in the wrong direction.
Step 2: Know what you would bring to the role
The job search has changed in recent years. Not that long ago, it would be commonplace to see an objective statement at the top of a CV. The first thing a candidate would communicate to a prospective employer was what they were looking for.
These objective statements were often written like this:
“Looking to join a progressive organisation where I can contribute my unique skills and experience and can continue learning to advance in my career.”
If this is at the top of your CV, delete it now before going any further!
Yes, you need to know what job you want. But if you don’t know, and cannot communicate why a company should hire you, then you will struggle with your job search.
People that land jobs faster are confident in what they have to offer and the lead with this information. They know the value they bring and can articulate this clearly in each interaction relating to their job search, from networking emails through to job interviews.
You will also find their value clearly defined on their LinkedIn profile and right at the top of their CV or resume (with no objective statement in sight!).
What is the employer looking for?
Ultimately, any employer wants to know the answer to one question: “What’s in it for me?”. In other words, “How would we benefit from hiring you?”.
If you struggle to answer that question right now, then it’s important to take some time to explore what your key selling points are before you write your CV and before you embark on your job search.
Questions to ask yourself to get you started
In my free Job Search Questionnaire you will find a list of eight questions, consider printing these pages as you might find it helpful to write out your answers in order to refine your thoughts and further clarify what you have to offer.
As you look back through what you have written, consider whether you have focussed on features or benefits.
What is the difference between a feature and benefit?
It's essential that you are able to articulate exactly how you will benefit an organsation or team if you were to be hired. Features and benefits are different, you should focus on benefits rather than features.
A feature is something that describes the product, or in this case, you. It might be something like, ‘I have 10 years’ people management experience’ or ‘I graduated top of my class’. A benefit explains why that matters.
In sales, benefits carry much more power. Imagine that someone is trying to sell you a new car. They might tell you that the car has a large trunk and collapsible back seats, that it has 4-wheel drive and is a hybrid model. That’s its features and they might sound impressive.
Now, let’s imagine that the salesperson tells you the benefits. They explain that the large trunk and collapsible seats mean that you can fit 4 bikes comfortably in the back and the 4-wheel drive would make travelling cross-country possible and that even if you were in the middle of nowhere, it’s no problem because you’ll hardly need to fill up on fuel because the car self-charges and runs on electricity.