I received an e-mail a month ago from a friend that said his company had just announced layoffs and that he was going to lose his job at the end of the week. Luckily, they offered a small severance package, which included some professional help in putting together a job search strategy. However, that wouldn’t start for a few weeks and he wanted to know, “So, what do I do now? What are my first steps in this job search?”
We talked a bit over the phone about many things…resumes, finances, interviews, etc. He wanted me to write-up a few notes to help him stay focused. So I dug up an old list I made for another person that asked that same question, I added a few extra items, and sent him the following “12 Strategies to Start Your Job Search”:
- Get a computer. If you don’t have a home computer, buy a modest one (under $500) along with a minimal DSL/Cable connection, Microsoft Word, and a good anti-virus package. The job search, resume preparation, recruiter communications, and job applications (especially government jobs) all require you to have easy access to a computer. No, don’t rely on a friend’s, your neighbor’s, the Labor Department’s, or the local library’s computer unless you absolutely have to. No, don’t depend on your smart-phone or your iPad job apps (they’re improving, but still limited). There are too many aspects of the job search today that demand you have relatively instant access to a real computer (PC or Mac) during the job search…so make those arrangements now.
- Go on a financial diet. It’s time to trim your expenses to focus on the long-haul search. Get rid of the movie/HD channels on cable, insulate your attic, buy a small home gym and give up your LA Fitness membership, start buying clothes at Target or Wal-Mart instead of Belks or Neiman Marcus, skip dinners at Outback and Olive Garden and find your inner chef. Even if you have modest emergency funds, you still need to do these things…the average job search is now over 6 months and few people have that much money set aside. So get your financial house in order.
- Sell your TV & get off the sofa! Well, you get the idea…nothing should distract you from your full-time job as a job seeker. You should plan to put 6 hours during the day into the job search as well as 2 hours each weekday evening (enjoy the weekends). This economy demands your full attention to the job search, so plan on an 8-hour a day, 5-days-a-week job search plan. You don’t have to give up all distractions or family time, just manage them so they don’t relegate your job search schedule to 2nd place.
- Start (improve) your professional networking. Start attending a professional group related to your industry (for me, it’s PMI or ASTD/ATD) the very first day you begin your job search…if not sooner. As soon as you have a good attendance track record and have developed some contacts in the group, volunteer with them. Take pro-active steps to assume any leadership role (anything from meeting coordinator to greeter to president) that you can. As a hiring manager, I want to see you active in your professional area, preferably as a leader, even if you aren’t currently employed.
- Connect with 2-3 support groups. Pick a couple of local groups that address different aspects of the job search. Some focus on networking, some on enhancing your Internet presence, some on social/financial support, some might be emotional or spiritual support, etc. Stay connected with these groups, as they are important to helping you stay focused on the job search and they give you a peer network with which to share your job search challenges.
- Sign up for more education. The longer you’re “sitting on the bench” the more likely your industry skills can become rusty. An evening, weekend, or online “accredited” degree program is a real plus when the recruiter asks what you’ve been doing in your downtime. If a degree isn’t right for you, consider obtaining certifications, licenses, or other industry-related skills. Even continuing-education classes relevant to your industry or profession are fine. Just have a documented way to show you are improving your skills or broader education. And don’t wait too long…any job gap over 3 months is your starting point for considering continuing ed.
- Don’t be just “unemployed” for more than 8 weeks. Employers are definitely looking at your job “gaps” to assess how you deal with these. Find a part-time job in a related (not necessarily your target) field to show your willingness to work and desire to stay off social funds. Look for short-term consulting opportunities (there are lots of these) in your field. Volunteer with professional groups in your industry (as a Project Manager, I volunteered with PMI during my job search). Refresh your professional certifications/licenses or learn a new trade. Attend an industry or professional conference. While you might not get a job within 8 weeks, you should have SOMETHING worth listing on your resume (or at least your cover letter) to help fill/augment any gaps that are 8 weeks or longer.
- Write a 10-page resume. Put everything you’ve ever done into what I like to call a “resume of your life” (or a “resume wardrobe“) and make sure you indicate which skills and talents are current and which are applicable to your target career. This is something you can start on early, but don’t feel pressured to produce a poor resume quickly. Take a couple of weeks to gather your thoughts (and passions and callings) and write out this excessively long resume with only a modest focus on formatting. Then get a professional resume writer to take that 10-page resume and work it into a professional 2-page resume that can be both printed and used online. Yes, I think it’s worth the time/money to get a (modestly priced) professional resume done that you can tweak later. In addition, make sure you have EVERYTHING from your all your former jobs written down in your 10-page resume – this helps the professional resume writer find the “gems” in your past that you sometimes can’t see. (Note: nobody gets to see the 10-page resume except you and your resume professional.)
- Use the Web to job hunt. There are numerous jobs boards on the Internet, many of which might be ideal for you. However, there are jobs out there that will be found only with other methods in other places (networking, volunteering, direct mail, etc.), so don’t spend too much time in front of the computer. Put your resume on Monster and CareerBuilder for recruiters to find, but I’d suggest you start with Indeed or SimplyHired as your primary online search tools since they find all the Monster and CareerBuilder stuff as well as lots of job postings from private boards and corporate websites. Don’t overdo the web job search…no more than 20% of your job search time should be online.
- Develop a robust LinkedIn profile. Once you get the resume written, use it to develop a solid LinkedIn profile and a short job history. LinkedIn is becoming an essential element in today’s job search – a large portion of recruiters now use LinkedIn to understand a bit more about candidates before making contact with them. And yes, while you’re at it, clean up your Facebook account to be a bit more professional…recruiters look there too!
- Hone your Tech skills. While you might have been able to avoid some technologies in your prior jobs, everyone needs to have a mastery of Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) as well as Internet browsing, e-mail (web-based as well as server-based), and modest smart-phone skills (texting, checking e-mails, etc.). It would also be good to be at least familiar with a wide variety of technologies — texting, Skype, cloud computing, instant messaging, Twitter, online bill paying, e-readers, etc. Don’t be a technology dinosaur…you must embrace the 21st century!
- Read current job search books. Resumes have changed over the years, interviews are focusing on behavioral questions, job networking is a key strategy, and social media is becoming a strong force in the career search. Read about them…any job search book published in the last 5 years is probably safe…avoid the books that are more than 10 years old as they are most likely written for the job search of the 90s and not the 21st century.
These are my (current) top 12 job search strategies. There are many others, so I await your comments and ideas!
Bottom Line: The job search has changed over the last 10 years. It is now technology and communications centric, so you must embrace technologies that can help during the search. The job market is tough, so prepare yourself for a long job search. Find ways to better yourself so when the recruiter asks what you have been doing since your last job to keep your skills current, you’ll have a good answer!
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