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Job Search Lessons Learned December 30, 2009

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
Tags: , ,

Recently several people have asked me for tips regarding job search strategies in the current economic environment. I’m not sure how valuable my advice is given that I was out of work much longer than I wanted to be, but job searching was a full-time position for me during that time and I guess I did learn a few things along the way.

First, the bad news:

1. Applying to jobs on-line: slightly better odds than the lottery, but not by much. With unemployment still running north of 10% in most markets, hiring companies and managers have a very large pool of highly-qualified candidates to choose from. Of course “you can’t win if don’t play,” but you have to be realistic about your chances of landing an interview based on an on-line application, regardless of how well-written your resume and cover letter might be.

2. A pretty good fit is nowhere near good enough. With so many applicants per position, hiring managers and their helpers are looking for ways to quickly weed out candidates. These days it’s not enough to meet most of the job requirements with proven ability to learn and contribute in a new environment. A lot of people get eliminated from consideration because they don’t have direct experience in the target industry. It has nothing to do with how hard it is to learn, but right now managers can afford to be picky, and any learning curve can be seen as a liability, regardless of your long-term potential.

3. Third-party recruiters: how much can they really help? Honestly I’m not sure what the future is for third-party recruiters in the current job market. I believe that hiring companies are having no trouble finding qualified candidates just by posting positions on their own internal job boards or the popular sites like CareerBuilder, Yahoo HotJobs, Monster, and The Ladders. I’m sure there are some specialized positions that can benefit from a focused candidate search, but otherwise I don’t think recruiters provide much value. On the job seeker side, I don’t believe there is a “hidden job market” that only recruiters know about. The last few times I heard from a recruiter, it was about a job I had already applied to. If you’re seriously looking for another job, you’re probably have the same information the recruiters have.

Look, don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some great recruiters, very hard working people who are dedicated to helping job seekers. I just wouldn’t sit back a wait for them to do all the work.

4. Save your money, don’t pay for job search. I got the big pitch several times: pay us several thousand dollars (“an investment in your career, you’ll earn it back in no time after you land your next job”), and we’ll re-write your resume and give you access to our exclusive job listings. I understand that some people may need help with their resume and “marketing plan.” In my case I got some great advice from an outplacement service that was included in my severance package, and my support group of fellow job-seekers helped a lot as well. Recruiters should be paid after they help you land a position, not before.

OK, so what should you do instead?

5. Marketing plan: do your research and sell. More than ever this is the time to target your job search and learn how to sell yourself. You’ve got to be ready to convince someone that you’re exactly what they’re looking for, the perfect fit. There are many on-line resources for researching industries and companies to help you learn more about their culture, history and likely future needs. Figure out who your target companies are and why they should hire you. I attended a networking meeting with other job seekers earlier this year where the host started by asking how many people worked in sales. A few raised their hands. The host shook his head and asked again, eventually helping us understand that we were all in sales.

6. Network: it really is all about who you know. This might be hard if you’re an introvert, but you have to get out there and make contact. Everyone you’ve ever known is a potential lead, and most people understand that what goes around comes around, and you might be in a position to help them someday. After all your friends and former co-workers know you’re looking for a job, it’s time to meet some new people. Ideally you’re trying to meet people who work at your target companies. It doesn’t matter if they have a job posted or not, you’re trying to make a strong impression that could lead to something unexpected, whether now or further down the road. I’m convinced that this is how almost everyone gets a job these days, although obviously it often takes longer that we would like.

7. Get support: everybody needs somebody sometime. Job search is tough emotionally, and friends and family might not be enough to get you through. I regularly attended networking meetings with other job seekers, sharing leads and strategies, and sometimes just crying on each others’ shoulders. After awhile it felt like an AA meeting: “Hi, I’m Tim and I’m looking for a job. It’s been X months since my last pay check,” but believe me, it works.

8. Sharpen the saw: use the time to learn and give back. My dad used to say “there’s a time to fish and a time to cut bait.” This is a great time to take classes, get that certification, and generally build your skills, if for no other reason than to be able to answer the question: “what have you been doing with yourself since your last job?” In my case I wish I had done more with my “off-time,” but I always thought that next job was right around the corner. I’d also recommend looking for ways to help others, whether volunteer work or consulting at non-profits who can benefit from your experience.


I hope that helps.



1. The Value of Networking « Managing in the 2000s - July 5, 2012

[…] for any job seeker are their personal connections and extended network (see my previous post Job Search Lessons¬†Learned), and learning how to leverage those relationships can make the difference between getting an […]

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