When Finding a Job, is the Job
There’s no sugar-coating this: looking for a job when you’re unemployed can be one of the most frustrating, discouraging, and disheartening experiences you’ll ever go through in your life. At the precise moment that you need to project confidence and competence, those things are possibly quite far from what you’re feeling. If you’re reading this while in this situation, I’m truly sorry. I know it’s difficult beyond words. You’re not alone in feeling how you feel. What I want to share with you here isn’t a cure, but my hope is that it may be a treatment.
A fundamental principle of physics is that a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest … the human body included. When you’re on the job market and feeling frustrated, it’s easier than you may think to sink into a state of rest. Waking up later than you might normally, poking around a few job sites, and then calling it a day. This can very quickly turn into a dangerous vicious cycle, because it becomes routine. If someone finds themselves getting caught in this cycle, there are a few things from a physical and mental health standpoint they should be doing – eating well and getting exercise, especially – but there are plenty of resources out there far more qualified than I am to talk about that. Here, I want to focus on your job search.
Here’s my challenge to you: if you’re looking for a job when you’re unemployed, I want you to treat this exactly like your full-time job. A typical full time job is about 40 hours a week, and you can invest that same amount of time wisely in your search. This will do three things for you. First, it will give you a sense of purpose and productivity, which will immediately help boost your confidence. Secondly, if you spend time employing the strategies I’ll outline below, you will become a more effective job-seeker, giving you a better chance of bringing your search to an end sooner. Third and finally, when I’m speaking with a candidate who’s between jobs, I do ask how they’re making use of their time. Candidates who are approaching their job search diligently impress me, because it tells me something about their work ethic and professionalism in the workplace as well.
Skills and strengths inventory
Ideally, every working person should be doing this on an ongoing basis, but when embarking on an active job search, it’s essential. A hard skills inventory is usually possible to do on your own. Consider all the work-related things you can do and have done, and for each one make a few notes about how you’ve developed, used, and refined that skill. Highlight the top three or four that you feel are most important to the career you’re pursuing. Flesh out your notes on those a bit more, because those are the ones you’ll be highlighting in applications and talking about in interviews.
A strengths inventory is different. You can start on your own, but I encourage you to get in touch with a few former supervisors or colleagues, explain what you’re doing, and ask them to tell you what they saw as your strengths. You might be surprised at what you hear; most people aren’t entirely aware of how other people see them, and this will provide more areas for thought and exploration. Again, develop a list, highlight three or four areas where you really shine, and spend more time articulating why.
Interview preparation and practice
Interviewing is a learned skill, but in my experience most people don’t treat it that way. When they have to do it, they wing it with little or no practice. Ironically, just when they start to get really good at it, they get another job and fall out of practice again until the next time. There are two kinds of interview preparation you should be doing as a full-time job seeker. If you’ve been asked to interview for a job, you should spend at least an hour or two researching the company and thinking about the company- or job-specific questions you might be asked. Also, you should be conducting more general preparation. You can do part of it alone, practicing (out loud!) your answers to common interview questions, especially the tougher ones. If at all possible, ask a friend or family member (or consider looking for a coach) to do mock interviews with you: playing the part of the interviewer, asking common questions, and providing honest feedback to you on how you did.
Responding to job postings
Would it surprise you if I said it should take about an hour, if not more, to prepare a response to a job posting? Every application you put together should be tailored to that job. You should read the posting numerous times to make sure you’ve understood everything to the letter. Your cover letter (if included) and resume should be customized to ensure you’re highlighting the right things. And you should proofread it several times, to make sure you haven’t left any spelling or grammar mistakes behind.
Companies who are actively posting jobs are just the tip of the iceberg. There are other companies in need of the skills and experience you have. You should be finding them, researching them, and creating ‘prospect lists’ of the ones you want to contact.
Cold calling and self-introductions
This is a tough one for many – if not most – people. Calling a company out of the blue, finding out who the right person is to talk to, then introducing yourself is an intimidating prospect for almost everyone. And yet, doing this may just be the shortcut to your next job.
Networking and relationship building
Depending on the career you’re in, going to events to expand your network may or may not be appropriate. In either case, you still need to be fostering relationships in your industry. Contact people who’ve been references for you in the past, ask them if they’re still willing to do so, and if they have any suggestions for you. Contact former colleagues and supervisors and do the same. Let everyone in your network know you’re on the market, and always ask if there’s someone else they’d recommend talking to. This is how most people tap into the ‘hidden’ job market.
My hope in sharing this overview with you is that you can see how 40 hours each week can be invested in ways that will help advance your job search in concrete ways. Also – perhaps even more importantly – I hope it restores a sense of purpose and direction that you may have felt waning if you’re looking for a job when you’re unemployed.