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Getting good at a job search is not at the top of most people’s bucket lists, like say, running a marathon or embarking on an African safari. But in the modern workplace, where jobs are in a frequent state of flux, getting good at the search is an important skill to cultivate in a professional life. Here are my five best tips for understanding the techniques of a search, to thrive during the process and achieve success. 

set boundaries

Contrary to conventional wisdom, a job search is not a full-time job, in the sense of a 40-plus hour work week. When I say that to my coaching clients during our initial call, I hear a palpable sigh of relief. This isn’t a license to slack, but rather a call to shape the time spent on a job search so that it has a defined structure with parameters in order to be the most effective and the least draining. It starts with establishing the fundamental tasks at hand, which might vary from week to week, depending on where you are in your search.

If you’re just starting, the first steps would be updating a resume and LinkedIn page to present your professional value. From there, it moves into identifying target companies and connections at these companies and reaching out to them. It is followed by interview prep, and finally, closing the deal with salary negotiations. These steps may not be linear, and often the cycle repeats again (and sometimes even again) before reaching a successful conclusion.

Job search task list includes:

  • updating a resume and LinkedIn page to create a strong professional presence
  • research and identifying relevant target companies
  • finding connections at target companies for an internal referral
  • looking through job listings
  • reaching out for introductions at target companies
  • interview prep
  • thank you notes
  • more follow up

You might have noticed that ’looking through job listings’ is fourth on the list, and though listings have a place in a search, most people overemphasise them. They are best used as a catalyst to find connections to people who can make an introduction to someone in the company so that you’re not just applying cold.

establish tangible goals

Now that you have a sense of the tasks, it’s time to set specific goals that are drawn from this list or any others you want to add. You can set daily or weekly goals, whichever works best for you, as long as they are reasonable and achievable given the other obligations in your life. You’ll learn from week to week how to tweak your plan to optimise results. I cannot overstate the following: It will do neither you, your family, nor your job prospects any good to have a search bleed into every waking moment. Set tangible goals with definite boundaries to thrive during a job search. 

lean into learning

Work-related skills:

If looking for a new job is due to circumstances beyond your control, it may not feel like much of an opportunity to do anything other than find work as quickly as possible. That’s especially true during the first pangs of being let go. Many of my clients eventually come to see it as a chance to reflect on where they’ve been, where they’d like to go and what they need to get there. That was the case with Natasha, who worked as a data analyst at a tech company. She was an individual contributor and wanted to move into a management role. We discussed finding courses that would help her explore mentorship and leadership principles.

You might want to learn a skill that’s related to becoming a more competitive candidate. An effective way to determine what skills are relevant to your field is by searching through job descriptions and keeping track of the requirements that regularly get listed. As an example, I’ve coached marketing professionals during their job search who realised they needed to become more familiar with influencers and popular platforms, and I’ve worked with long-time project managers who’ve come to see the value of a professional certification.

If learning a work-related skill becomes part of your agenda, make sure to include this on the list of job-search goals for the week. Whenever there’s a lull in other parts of your search, whether it’s waiting for a call back from a networking contact or an interview, it’s an ideal time to learn.

Passion projects:

Your leaning into learning doesn’t have to be limited by a job search. Some of the most meaningful education can come from fulfilling a non-vocational part of yourself that’s been tamped down because of a heavy workload. One of my clients, Ben, had been consumed by his job as VP of sales. While looking for work during his career transition, he decided to take a yoga teacher training class, and has since started giving classes to neighbors in the community center.

clarify your priorities

I’ve coached many clients through their tears after separating from companies where they’ve worked for 15, 20 even 25 years, barely able to take a breather. Until that moment. To thrive during a job search is to use the moment at its fullest, even when the moment is uncomfortable. For all the challenges of looking for work, taking a breather from the usual routine is a chance to consider your essential career priorities going forward. And to accomplish that, I like to boil it down with a simple exercise.

3 x 3:

Reflecting on past employment, name the three elements that are essential for you to thrive in your next job. Write them down as bullet points and then flesh them out with more detail. These priorities might range from the practical – like compensation and title – to the philosophical, such as wanting to have impact by contributing to making the world a better place. For some job seekers, a better balance with room for family life leads their priority list.

Once you’ve identified the positive attributes, consider the opposite. Name three elements that would be deal breakers, that would make you say ’no’ to a job offer. The pandemic has had an impact on the deal breakers, with many people more than ready to ditch a daily long commute for a hybrid model that allows them to work from home.

rise above shame

This fourth tip is personal for me because of the shame that accompanied my job loss. From the depths, I know how isolating shame can be, at exactly the time when we need to be connecting with others – both for emotional comfort and strategic networking. Combating shame starts with knowing you’re not alone. I’ve coached people who’ve been let go when they’re at the very top of their fields. I say to them what I had to remember myself as a mantra: A job loss is not a reflection of accomplishments and certainly not a reflection of your intrinsic value. This bears repeating because the negative chatter can be incessant, and the only response is to shut it off. A tangible action step to take to help shut down the chatter is mapping out an achievement that you’re especially proud of, noting every strength it took along the way to get it done. This will not only improve your self-esteem, but will also be part of a pitch you’ll need to hone for interviews.

The pandemic wiped out so many jobs, and the one benefit is that in the process, it also wiped away a lot of the stigma. These days, hiring managers don’t dwell on the reason candidates are looking for work. It’s now understood as a fact of modern life. So, fight the impulse to hide. Share your story, share your job status and share your achievements. You’ll find more people than you might imagine who know exactly what you’re going through because they’ve lived through it themselves.

take a walk

There are times during a job search when the going gets rough. Despite a vigorous effort completing all the essential tasks and doing everything right, job seekers are sometimes met with radio silence and rejection. When those two things repeatedly pile on top of each other, it can be hard to bear. As a coach, this is one of my most pivotal moments with a client to help them thrive during their job search. What I first try to offer is hope. I tell them, ‘This too shall pass.’ And then, I give them encouragement to take a walk: to walk away from the listings, the endless networking, the interview prep, the follow up, the disappointment at not being valued and the worry that this job search will never end. In some situations, people need an hour, while others need a day or even a week before it’s possible to regroup. But with support and going back to the basics, they ultimately triumph. And so will you.

wendy braitman, PCC.

career development coach

20 January 2022

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