A woman sits at her laptop. Popping out of the screen are the words job search.

How to Launch a Successful Job Search - 3 Steps

Hannah Mason
Job Search

How to Launch a Successful Job Search - 3 Steps

Hannah Mason • Sep 06, 2022

“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. 

Most of us know about the main elements of finding a new job such as writing a CV and going to job interviews. I’ve covered these topics in detail in other resources.

Coming up

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. 

Are you struggling to find a new job?

I can help

Get your CV professionally edited and make sure YOU get noticed

Refresh your CV!

Those are some impressive benefits and you now know why those features matter to you. It’s much more powerful than the features alone. But what if you live in a city, don’t have bikes and have no desire to drive off road.

You really want a car for the school run and the weekly grocery shop. Well, in this case you don’t really care about the benefits our salesperson mentioned. Benefits need to be tailored to their audience. You need to understand who you are marketing to and what benefits matter to them.

If the car salesperson had taken the time to understand their customer, they would have mentioned that the large trunk was big enough for a pram and a week’s worth of groceries.

That the hybrid model meant less pollution being pumped out outside the school gates and that the 4-wheel drive would lead to a more comfortable ride for any backseat passengers. 

So, you need to get clear on what you have to offer, not just the features but the benefits too. Then you need to check that those benefits align to the roles and companies you want to apply to. That way when they ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ you know exactly what. 

A great exercise is to challenge yourself to summarise this in one sentence. i.e. 

“I create authentic content that will help your company generate more inbound leads”
“I’ve successfully led teams that have serviced accounts worth $20M, I want to help you do the same”

“My passion for sustainability and my engineering background uniquely position me to lead sustainable development initiatives which meet funding criteria”

Once you know exactly what it is you have to offer and you can clearly and confidently communicate, you are able to totally re-position your job search. 

You are no longer someone who is looking for a job. You are not someone who just needs a company to hire them. You’re not someone who is looking for a solution. You are the solution. You are someone who can help a company meet its goals. You are the answer to their problems. 

Before you continue in your job search, check how you’ve positioned yourself. 

Positioning yourself well, towards the right roles is everything. It’s the backbone of your job search and the element that everything else hangs on. Once you have this element right, everything else can slot into place. 

Step 3: Make the most of your job search toolkit

There are many different ways to land a job. If you have spent any time on LinkedIn you will have seen lots of conflicting advice, along with lots of success stories of what has worked for different people.

One person may be saying that the only way to get a job is through networking. Another will tell you that you need to keyword optimise your CV so that it can be retrieved from recruitment databases. 

Depending on who you listen to, you may believe that there is a magic formula that you need to follow. However, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. What worked for one person, might not be the right approach for you. I

t’s important to remember that any advice you read has been written with a particular audience and a particular set of circumstances in mind, and these may not be your circumstances. 

When deciding where to focus your efforts, you need to conduct an honest appraisal of what approach is going to yield the best results for you and your totally unique situation.

I’d recommended considering all the main ways that people land roles and dividing your time proportionally between the approaches which are most likely to land you results. 

Here’s an overview of the main approaches and some considerations for each:

Online applications

Most companies will advertise their available positions either on their websites or through third-parties such as LinkedIn. In some ways this has made applying for jobs easier than ever and you can often apply for a job in a matter of seconds.

The problem is, it’s become easier for everyone, meaning that many roles attract hundreds or even thousands of applications. You might come to one of two conclusions:

1. The ease of applying means I should apply for more roles to maximise my chances

2. Because most roles attract over 200 applications, there is no point in me applying, after all, there’s only a 0.5% chance I’ll be successful.

However, I believe both these conclusions are missing something. 

The first conclusion is problematic because it lacks focus. As we covered in essential step one, the most effective job search is a targeted job search. This is never truer than when applying online.

This is because when recruiters receive hundreds of applications, they become laser focussed on finding candidates that are a close match for the role.

They review each CV quickly and they need to see that you have the exact skills and experience they are looking for, quickly. If you are applying to as many roles as possible, then the likelihood is you are not a close match for all these positions.

By applying for more roles, you are not necessarily increasing your chance of success, but you are certainly increasing your chance of failure. And receiving lots of rejections is not good for your confidence.

You’ll find yourself becoming discouraged and you’ll lose motivation in your job search. Conversely, if you spend time seeking out the roles that you are a good match for (and if this is demonstrated on your CV) then your success rate is going to go up. 

The second conclusion, to ignore online applications completely, also has its problems. The fact is, companies continue to pay money to advertise roles online because they hire people through this process. It works for them. In fact, many large organisations are obligated to advertise every role and show that they have considered the applicants as part of their fair hiring process. 

By deciding that you are only going to network, or only going to send speculative applications, you are missing out on genuine opportunities from companies that are actively hiring. 

Yes, the odds may seem that they are stacked against you. But if you meet over 90% of the criteria of a role, your odds are actually very high. In my experience as a recruiter (and in the experience of many other recruiters I’ve spoken to), most job adverts attract a very low percentage of candidates who are actually qualified for the role.

I’ve advertised roles where I’ve received hundreds of applicants and fewer than 10% or sometimes fewer than 5% meet the essential requirements that were listed. That means for the average role with 200 applicants, you are only really competing with 20 or 10 people who are qualified for the role (presuming that you are qualified for the position). Now, all you need to do is be better that those 20 or 10 people, and that’s a lot easier. 

So, whether you’re applying for too many roles online, or you have discounted this tool completely, it’s worth taking online applications seriously by seeking out the roles that you are a very close match for and submitting a CV that demonstrates your relevant skills and experience. 

For some roles, you may wish to incorporate other job search tools, such as directly approaching the recruiter or reaching out to your network. If you have a connection to the company, then it can certainly be helpful to reach out to draw attention to your application.

Networking

Networking plays an important part in any job search. Most companies prefer to hire people that have been recommended to them. I’ve worked at a number of companies where employees are even paid a referral fee if the company hires someone they have recommended.

This trend is so prevalent that many people talk about the ‘hidden job market’, that is roles that are filled before they are advertised. 

I’ve personally been hired into roles that I didn’t apply for on the recommendation of friends or acquaintances, and I’ve also seen people hired into my team when there was no active vacancy. 

By the way, if your thought of networking is attending a business event and making small talk, then know, it is about much more than this. I’m naturally more of an introvert, I and I find networking events mostly very unenjoyable.

My definition of networking is focussed on getting the support of your network in your job search. This is a network that you should be building all the time.

Your network can be made up of friends, ex-colleagues, people you studied with, people in your industry and also your online network on sites like LinkedIn. 

One key to networking is to look to give and add value, not just to get. Yes, I’m talking about a longer-term approach here, but if you are someone who only engages with their network when something is in it for you, people will be less eager to help you when you need it. 

Another key is to be clear on how your network can help you. You might have a great network of people who would love to help you find a new job, but they might not know how to do that. When you ask someone for help, aim to be really clear on what they could do.

So, instead of saying “I need a new job, please let me know if you have any leads.”, you could say “I’m looking for a new role as an Executive Assistant. I love working with top executives that need someone to take initiative and help them organise their busy lives.

Do you know anyone like that? If so, would you be happy to introduce us?”

For each person that you reach out to, take time to think through what you could reasonably ask them, that they would be able to do. 

Working with agency recruiters

Agency recruiters work with many companies and are often specialised on one function. For instance, you will find legal recruiters, accountancy recruiters, sales & marketing recruiters and so on.

They can be a valuable resource in your job search as they will often have a wider view of what is happening in the market. 

When I worked as an agency recruiter, I was focussed on legal positions. We would advertise most of our roles but when I became aware of a role, the first thing I would do, is share it with the team and discuss whether we knew anyone who would be a good fit.

A good recruiter will know a wide network of people within their industry, both people actively looking and those not, and will often be able to identify the right person for a role from their existing database. 

Not all roles are recruited by agency recruiters, but if you are working in an industry or location where roles are resources this way, then getting to know the recruiters in your market is essential. 

Here’s some tips for working with recruiters:


1. Say ‘yes’ to a meeting or phone call. Even if you’re not looking for a new job. As with networking, it pays to invest in relationships with recruiters before you need them.

If a recruiter has approached you then they won’t be offended if they meet with you and you decline to interview for any roles. However, let them know the type of role you might be interested in and you may be surprised what opportunities this may lead to in the future. 


2. Seek out recruiters in your industry. As you start a job search, look for recruiters who are recruiting in your space. Get in touch and ask to register with them, even if they don’t have exactly the right type of role you are looking for. Getting registered with them means they are more likely to contact you when a right role does come up, even before they have advertised the role. 


3. Understand who recruiters work for. Recruiters are paid by the companies who are looking to hire. Often, they will only get paid once they have actually filled the role.

Recruitment can be cutthroat for this reason and recruiters usually don’t have time for anything other than finding the perfect candidate for the role they are hiring for.

Don’t be disappointed if a recruiter doesn’t spend time telling you why you weren’t shortlisted or what is wrong with your CV, it’s simply not their job to find you a job. Instead, focus on demonstrating how you are the right candidate for their clients. Once the recruiter has decided to put you forward for a role, utilise them as a resource.

If they are submitting your profile to their client, it’s in their interest that you get hired so that they get their commission. Ask them for any insight they might have about the role that could help you succeed and share with them information they need to get you past the line. 


Getting headhunted

To get headhunted for a role is surely the best way to job search. In many ways it’s totally passive, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things you can do to increase your chances of being headhunted. Roles are most often headhunted when the company is looking for specialised skills or experience.

They might have advertised the role and not had the right people apply or they might skip that step entirely. There are many methods of headhunting, but as more and more professionals have joined LinkedIn, this has become the go-to place to find talent. As a recruiter, I would search LinkedIn daily to find people for my roles. So, if you want to be headhunted, you need a complete profile on LinkedIn. 

I recently spoke with a senior HR Professional who is looking for a new role. We were discussing some roles she was interested in that she had seen on LinkedIn, when she commented “LinkedIn is saying that I only match 10% of the skills required for this role. That’s not true, this role is a great match and my CV clearly demonstrates this.”

The problem was, her LinkedIn profile didn’t demonstrate she was a match. It was incomplete and wasn’t giving a full picture of who she was and the types of roles she was suited to. Spending time on your LinkedIn profile is an important step in each job search. Take the time to ensure you have included the right information and keywords so that if someone is looking for someone like you, they find you!

Of course, this list doesn’t cover all the ways people find jobs. Opportunities can arise from many different types of situations. But, understanding some of the most common tools in a job search toolkit it essential.

As I said, you need to use the best tool for the job and that is the approach that works for you. Whatever approach you use, keep a clear target in mind, know and articulate your value and keep checking it’s working for you.

Do this, and you increase your chances of finding a job without losing your mind in the process. 

Conclusion

Job searching is not for the faint hearted, everyone faces setbacks and disappointments along the way.

However, by following the advice above, you'll be put yourself in a much better position to succeed!