You must be living under a rock not to know there's a job search frenzy going on right now. For me, the only thing worse than the number of people looking for work, is how many of them are going about it the wrong way. It pains me to watch this new influx of job seekers end up in the same position as a hamster on a wheel: on a road to nowhere. Let me share a story to illustrate my point...
A gentleman contacted me recently who had been running a small IT department for several years. His company had announced that everyone's hours were being cut and layoffs were coming. He had been looking for jobs, applying to anything and everything that he felt qualified for. In an effort to connect with as many employers as possible, he had applied to over 200 job postings, but had yet to get a single response. Feeling frustrated and concerned, he wanted me to give him feedback on what he was doing wrong. After a brief discussion, I learned he hadn't completed the strategic phase of his job search and explained that until he did so, he would continue to have dismal results. He immediately became defensive, "That's ridiculous. I'm about to lose my job and need another one to pay the mortgage. The last thing I should be doing is taking my time figuring out who I am and what I want. It's simple: I need a job. That's it." So, I gave him a challenge to prove my point. If he could, without hesitation, answer five questions for me, I would declare I was wrong. He agreed. I began:
- "What are some examples of how you are more successful than others in your field with similar experience?"
- "How do you use your professional strengths to add money to an employer's bottom line?"
- "What industries or professions that could make good use of your skills in this economy?
- "What are your minimum job requirements and how have they affected your approach to your job search?"
- "Who are the companies you really want to work for and why?
He couldn't answer a single one!
The truth is, even in a good economy, the average job seeker is not properly prepared. Regardless of age, most are under-educated when it comes to knowing how to effectively manage their careers. Consider this: do you learn the right way to choose a career path and find the best job opportunities in school? No. In fact, many college students today are under the mistaken impression that their degree will ensure them a great job. FACT: college teaches you everything except how to get the job. Seasoned professionals looking for work struggle too. Their job search skills are often limited and outdated. To sum it up, job seekers are spinning their wheels because they lack the knowledge and techniques vital to their success.
What can be done? To start, all job seekers need to know that there are two components to a successful search. I refer to them as phases, because you must complete the first in order to make the most of the second.
In the beginning, 'strategic' phase, you assess your current priorities, strengths and interests and then use this self-knowledge to research and identify opportunities that best suit you.
This phase is critical because it's a chance to come to terms with who you are and define a professional goal that is achievable and satisfying. To complete this phase, you need to know how to execute an honest, comprehensive self-assessment. But more importantly, you need to know how to use that information to make smart decisions that will point you in the right direction. It's not an easy process to complete on your own - especially, if you haven't learned the best way to do it. And now, thanks to the economy, many people are skipping this phase and are simply focused on getting any job, without considering how well it will suit there needs. I understand why. There are bills to pay and mouths to feed. But, failing to complete this phase means you'll struggle to find opportunities and convince employers to hire you. Here's why:
The second, 'tactical' phase is where you build a customized, proactive job search plan that leverages your strengths.
No two people are the same, which means, no two people should go about a job search in the same way. When the strategic phase has been completed properly, the quality of the job seeker's efforts in the tactical phase goes up - and so does their results.
What happened to the gentleman above? He agreed to let me guide him through both phases. In the process, we identified that he was particularly skilled at training people and that he especially enjoyed helping older people who were less comfortable working with computers. He also learned how to create a connection between the two. This prompted him to research the possibility of teaching computer skills in retirement communities AND resulted in him getting hired to create and teach programs to seniors. Not only does he like his new job, it's a career direction that he fully admits he would have never identified had he not completed the process.
In summary, people who take the time to complete both phases, especially when they are under pressure to find work, see better results. They create better resumes and more compelling cover letters. They have an easier time networking, connecting with employers and landing interviews. They even know how to find opportunities outside their normal profession. So, if you are looking for work, no excuses! It's time to use this process to get off the treadmill and on track to a new job.
J.T. O'Donnell is a nationally syndicated advice columnist, author and founder of CAREEREALISM. Her work has been recognized by leading sources including, CareerBuilder.com and BusinessWeek.com for it's timely, cutting-edge job search and career strategy advice for young professionals (ages 18-40). For more articles, visit her at www.CAREEREALISM.com.