lessons learned from successful job hunts

When coaching clients of mine complete a successful job hunt, particularly after a long, grueling search, I ask them a pointed question, ‘What is the one strategy you’ve learned that you want to remember should you be looking for work again?’ Over the years, I’ve kept track of these answers on yellow Post-its scattered throughout my desk. With so many individuals considering searching for their next job opportunities at this time, I wanted to share some of the most popular responses. 

more networking, fewer job applications

Hands down, the favorite answer to the most important lesson learned from a successful job hunt is (drumroll, please….) networking. Inside of that answer, there are several variations. But let’s start with a simple definition of the term – networking is interacting with other people with purpose.

Many clients reflect on their past approach to networking as a regret, saying, ‘I should have been reaching out to my network all along.’ They recount the challenge of having to dust off contact lists during a job search and get back in touch with people they haven’t spoken to in years and doing so at a time of vulnerability and need. We can’t go back in time, but we can fix it going forward. And after landing a job, I help clients create a plan for an ongoing networking strategy – one that includes expanding their circles by putting themselves in situations to meet new people and nurturing relationships that already exist.

related content: adapting to evolving job search best practices.

use job listings as a catalyst to network

Denise, a quality assurance specialist at a Fortune 500 company, was crystal clear about the lessons she learned during her protracted job search. Denise had applied to 50 jobs and it was an undertaking she vowed never to repeat again. Not one of those applications led to the job she finally landed, which happened because of an internal referral before the position was even listed. When I hear of clients setting job application quotas as the emphasis of their weekly goals, we have a serious talk. In almost all cases, volume applying is not a winning strategy, though I understand the appeal. It’s so direct and tangible during an amorphous process. You see a job, you apply, you feel like you’ve accomplished something for the day. But volume applying is not necessarily the best approach.

If done right, applications take time and thought to make sure you’re tailoring the cover letter and resume for each position and company. And though job applications deserve a spot in the job search toolkit, they should be prioritized by whether the role is a good match, and if there’s the possibility for an internal referral. And when there’s no immediate referral, applications can serve as a catalyst for finding one. Denise felt her momentum drain along the way of her 50 applications, as she received only a minimal response from companies, and when they did respond, it was with a ‘no.’ Her networking ultimately closed the deal.

According to a survey in CNBC, up to 80% of jobs are filled through personal and professional connections. No matter how challenging or uncomfortable networking may feel, it’s the single most essential strategy to finding a job.

related content: how to use virtual networking to find a job.

learn to navigate the highs and lows of the job search

In may be hard to imagine job hunts having any highs (apart from the day you get an offer). But in fact, they do. It could be when a contact with whom you’ve been trying to connect finally returns your call and arranges a meeting. Or even better, your target company schedules a first interview, or moves you to the next round. And there might even be a week when that happens multiple times and suddenly your calendar is so full, it’s hard to squeeze everything in. I’ve watched as clients go through this up swing and understand their elation, especially after a job search drought. And while it’s good to savor the positive moments, I suggest they don’t get attached. That can be a confusing direction to hear.

Not getting attached is even more important during job search dry spells – when networking emails and LinkedIn invitations are going unanswered and rejections from recruiters are piling up. In either situation, or anywhere in between, those who successfully land jobs have learned to navigate the highs and lows and continue to do the work to uncover new job opportunities.

This was repeatedly echoed to me by those I’ve surveyed and most poignantly by Andre, a marketing director who had a searing experience during his job search. Andre was exhilarated after receiving a job offer, only to have it rescinded a few days later because of a pandemic-related restructuring. He was understandably devastated. But a few days after hearing the news, he forced himself to regroup. And some months later, I had the pleasure of helping him negotiate a sizable compensation increase after receiving two different job offers. Throughout it all, Andre never gave up. When we had our final call, Andre told me that this job search was one of the biggest learning experiences of his life. And his most important takeaway was to reframe the idea of failure as just a step along the way to success.

Whether things are percolating or not, keep moving forward by uncovering new job opportunities, tweak your job search plan as needed and remain positive.

related content: 5 ways to navigate the ups and downs of looking for a job.

stay visible

One of the ironic inspirations for my becoming a coach was undoing the mistakes I’d made during my own challenging job search. I write ‘undoing’ knowing I couldn’t do that for myself. But perhaps I could find a way to turn those mistakes into teachable moments for others who find themselves in a similar situation. Losing a job felt like losing my identity and it was accompanied by a lot of shame. And with that shame, I chose to retreat, and didn’t make the most of the vast professional network I’d built through decades in the film industry. In other words, don’t do what I did. Stay connected and visible.

The good news for job seekers is that LinkedIn makes that easier than ever to stay connected. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is polished and up to date, including posting a professional photo if you don’t have one. Take the time to reflect on your accomplishments so that you can confidently express your unique professional advantage when networking and interviewing. I say this knowing that confidence is not necessarily an easy feat after a job loss, but make sure to dedicate effort to tackling the inner demons that rob you of self-esteem. Had I not turned away from my network, I would’ve realized that there were others going through related experiences who were willing to help.

My client, Jordan, wasn’t a fan of LinkedIn before we started working together. But he came to understand its value. While I initially had to bug him about adding connections to his page, he soon took pride in reporting back to me about how many additional contacts he’d made each week. And before long, Jordan’s expertise on the platform easily exceeded my own. He regularly commented on other people’s posts to stay engaged (and boost his algorithms) and eventually created short videos demonstrating expertise in his field of project management. Jordan is convinced that his successful job hunt was directly related to prolific LinkedIn activity.

A key lesson learned here is that for a successful job search, retreat is not an option.

related content: how to structure your day for a successful job search.

update your skills

During a job search, it’s sometimes hard to feel much of an upside. But it’s likely there’s more time in your schedule when you’re in between roles. Many clients have expressed deep gratitude for the additional hours in the week to be with their families. Another way to utilize those new-found moments is to update your skills, which will help you stay nimble for the modern workplace. There is so much opportunity for online learning right now that taking a class can be as convenient as sitting on the couch.  During their job hunts, some of my clients brushed up on coding skills, others have taken digital design classes, obtained project management certificates or real estate licenses and even a few have gone back to school to finally complete a long-held dream of obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

When you need a break from scrolling through job listings, reaching out to your network, or checking and re-checking your inbox with the hope of seeing a yes from the recruiter who’s been ghosting you, ditch the job search for part of your day and learn something new.

By expanding your knowledge base and skill set, you can become a more competitive candidate.

related content: reskilling and upskilling: best practices to build a robust learning plan.

pay it forward

It’s humbling to look for a job and that goes double if you’re a person who’s not used to asking for help. But such a humbling experience can open a door toward empathy and that’s a win for us all. I’ve had clients who’ve admitted to being impatient in their past working lives when someone reached out to them about a job. But their job searches changed them for the better. Now, they’re always willing to take the call. When I asked the question, ‘What did you learn from your job search?’ to Kevin, a software developer whom I’ve coached, he practically blurted out the answer. ‘Pay it forward,’ he said, beaming. And to him that meant helping job seekers in any way that he could. One way Kevin does that, now in the position of hiring others, is keeping candidates promptly updated as they go through the hiring process. And Heidi, who recently landed as a VP of operations, took the time to write thank you notes to everyone who assisted in her successful job hunt (which had the added bonus of nurturing her existing network).

Bottom line: Assume the best. People will be there to help if you reach out and give them the chance.

As for my most-important lesson learned, I’m inspired by Andre, who managed to embody the key to a successful job hunt – resilience. And the way to do that through the inevitable highs and lows is finding the support to keep you uplifted, staying connected and visible, and remembering you’re just one call away from your next, great opportunity.

wendy braitman.

career and executive coach

04 August 2021

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