Tuesday 27 March 2012

The Art of Outstanding Job Search

Or, alternatively:

Why job seekers welded to conventional job search strategies are doomed to failure:

Why is it that the most common approach to solving a problem is so rarely the most effective one? I have worked with thousands of clients over the years who believe that their next job is going to come from sitting applying to jobs using traditional methods such as responding to: newspaper ads, internet job sites and recruitment agencies. Then they wonder why, along with about another 1,000 applicants, they end up filed under ‘B’ (for bin).

I regret to inform you that traditional job search methods are for clueless people with no idea who they are, what they want to do or where they’re going to find it - Painful to watch and absolute agony to experience. After 15 years in the field of career development, a frequent metaphor I use is to liken great potential to fire hoses; they need firm direction to do their job or they risk damaging the bearer (or the person who let go of their responsibility). Have you ever seen how much damage a ‘wild’ fire hose can do?!

It’s extreme. The same damage can be done by anyone holding great potential and not knowing what to do with it. In fact, possessing great potential and misdirecting it can be the root-cause of substance abuse, self-harm and delinquency. Can you remember those kids at school with heaps of personality, brimming-over with cleverness and seemingly always in possession of the right answer? Yet we bump into them 20 years later to find them a shuffling wreck of uncertainty and broken. The bearer of the most potential may also experience the most risk of failure because the potential for disappointment is greater.

As I have written many times before in various guises, people lacking a sense of purpose are palpably going nowhere (because possessing potential can make knowing where to take it all the more challenging). Therefore they lack the positive energy required to get hired. Hirers - either overtly or on a subliminal level - are looking to be engaged with. They’re looking to be seduced by the candidate’s passion for the subject and forced to visualise that person doing the job so convincingly that they would be a fool not to hire them. It would be foolhardy for any company to let a talent escape them as they risk joining the competition and helping them do well.

The majority of people I work with take as long as 1 to 2 months to have this very important penny drop. Successful job search strategy is all about research and getting to grips with the specialist knowledge you require to land a job that you love. It’s the enthusiasm that proves so attractive in the interview. Self-belief is a form of charisma and very hard to resist. It is also the keystone in rapport-building and I defy anyone to get hired at interview without the magic ingredient of rapport.

Strange, for many people, is the fact that quite a few of my clients don’t even use a CV to get hired. CVs, or resumés as they call them in North America, are a deeply subjective veneer of who a person might be. CVs are rarely what clinches the job. At best they might open the door to the interview. But why would an experienced hiring manger place too much faith on the legitimacy of an un-vetted – and generic - employment history?

In his world’s bestselling job hunter’s bible ‘What color is your parachute?’, Dick Bolles uses an up-turned triangle diagram called: ‘Many if not Most Employers Hunt for Job-Hunters in the Exact Opposite Way from How Most Job-Hunters Hunt for Them’ in Chapter 5‘The Best and Worst Ways to Look for Those Job Vacancies That Are Out There’.  Savvy hirers are looking to promote people whose work they have already seen. Or whose reputation is already evident from recommendations they have received from their network. Hiring blind is a flawed approach and increasingly unsustainable strategy.

So what are you going to do about modifying your job search from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive’?

Start with seeking to understand yourself, your skill-set and your experience. Extrapolate this information into the future and work hard to visualise what kind of organisation needs this profile. Don’t forget that your value system and your interests are key ingredients in deciphering ‘best fit’ and helping you whittle-down the list of potential employers. If you don’t understand yourself, or you are blind to your various career attributes, seek-out informational meetings with people whose jobs you are interested in knowing more about. Ask them what they like about their jobs? Ask what skills they make the most use of? What subjects they enjoyed (and didn’t enjoy) in school or university? Ask them if they could introduce you to someone else they know who might be able to help you you’re your quest for information?

As you gradually build information and distil it, your career passions with rise to the fore and your career strategy will become increasingly obvious. Your weather vane on knowing when you are onto something positive is your energy and interest levels go up. Constantly remind yourself that a rewarding and sustainable job is the kind of work where you draw upon as many of your career attributes as possible.

[Dead-end jobs are the kind of jobs where your skills are redundant and you have no interest in the subject matter. Remember one man’s poison could be another’s cure. No two people are the same and we should never judge where other people derive their sense of self-worth and livelihood. When faced with ‘job judgemental-ism’ I always hark back to the London Road Sweeper given the Freedom of The City of London because he did not miss a single day off work in over 40 years, you could eat your lunch off his pavements and singleton shopkeepers could set their watches by the punctuality of his dustcart as he called in to check on their safety. He was so evidently proud of a career some people might look down at.]

Next we picture the people and contacts we know in the kinds of companies that we can picture ourselves working in. I call this a ‘network audit’. Our contacts may stem from who we went to school with, their parents; who we play sport with, and their friends and families; who we went to college with and their contacts, our previous work colleagues and so-on.

This is why knowing what work we want to do and where we want to do it is crucial. A job search strategy without knowing this vital detail is lacking in the fuel required to last over a potentially long haul. There are those people who would fire-off many tens, maybe even hundreds, of CVs and résumés a month and wonder why they don’t get anywhere. A well-planned job search is all about firing at the labour market with a high velocity rifle and high-powered telescopic sight, taking time to be vigilant and well-prepared, to stalk our prey with patience and intelligence. It is not about point-blank rapid fire strategy with a sawn-off shotgun or, even worse, a machine gun!

Sadly, I pick the pieces up from this short-sighted approach all the time, when a great deal of damage has already been done, rendering the job search campaign untold harm. Over the years I have found that thought-less, fast pace and ill-prepared job search ends up with nowhere to go. Job searchers using this approach burn-up their potential pool of prospects at such a rate that they lose credibility with the hirers they do meet and never really possess the specificity of purpose to get hired in a job that really suits them.

As with most conventional wisdom and traditional ways of going about things, it is very difficult to challenge the status quo and successfully alter attitudes. Inadvertently, it is often the spouses who pressurise the job searcher into an ill-fitting and ill-considered machinegun approach. Perhaps it is because people tend to be fearful of trying something new and having their conformist ideas rattled; which is why the majority of people struggle to cope with change throughout.

This is why we need to work hard to manage our own expectations and those around us. Are we better taking a longer run at landing a job that we love, care for and can commit to; a job that will sustain us over a longer period? Or are we better off just landing any job in the shortest period of time possible; a job that risks the imprisonment of our most saleable career attributes? Those attributes which fuel a power-packed symbiosis between employee and employer over the long haul of a mutually energised relationship.

Experience has taught me that ill-considered and rash job search strategies aimed at landing any job quickly may solve a short-lived crisis today, but they’re unsustainable in the medium to long term because we start by making a big mistake – by not landing a job that we’re actually equipped to do well in. All this short-termist approach achieves is to increase the likelihood of us not performing to our maximum potential by trying to deliver on a role we’re not well-equipped for; increasing the risk of us getting fired and right back to square one on the virtual ‘Snakes & Ladders’ board of employment and unemployment – a soul-destroying experience for all involved. Ultimately, this is a very fraught and stressful recipe. 

I’ve seen too many people roll with these punches at a time when what they really deserve is a break and somebody who can empathise and help them build onwards and upwards. Job-loss is hard enough. The excruciating irony is that when we’ve just lost one job, the world’s expectation is that we market ourselves positively as if nothing happened. When people are recovering from the bereavement of job-loss, they need help not hindrance. This is one time in our careers when quality definitely outweighs quantity. Perhaps this is why it takes my clients an average of 3 to 4 months to land a job that they love; a one that 'fits' them well. 

What does job search success look like? 

Commit to getting hired at a job that you have the potential to do well. Commit to being bold. Get smart. Get prepared. Get connected. Get informed. Distil. Know what you are aiming at. And above all build your confidence by knowing what you’re interested in, what you are good at doing and doing what it takes to make it work. Above all, harness the power of positive thinking and visualise your goals. Make them real and turn them into reality.  

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