Looking for a job is uneasy work. Whether the goal is landing at a new company or in a new career, job seekers spend most of the time waiting. This includes waiting for a relevant listing, a response from a recruiter, an interview, a call back and, at long last, a good job offer. During this time, job seekers often must endure the politely-worded, ‘sorry, we’re going with another candidate’ emails, but even worse is when job seekers receive no word at all – a deafening silence that can be demoralizing. Occasionally while looking for work, the reverse scenario is true. Leads start to percolate. Multiple companies express interest, scheduling back-to-back interviews with hiring managers and members of the team. Hope is finally in the air. Then, the cycle repeats.
In this highly competitive market, the recipe for a successful job search is to stay steady and maintain momentum, despite the ups and downs on the way to receiving and accepting an offer. Here are five important ingredients to help filter out the peripheral noise to keep you buoyant and on track:
develop a sturdy framework
The antidote to the inevitable waiting that accompanies looking for a job is to take charge by being proactive. At the start of every work week, develop a set of actionable and achievable goals – the more precise the better – that don’t rely on anyone but yourself for completion. Some examples include:
- Update your resume with an emphasis on the value you’ve contributed to the workplace with your unique strengths and efforts.
- Identify new skills that can help you land your next job and outline steps you’ll take each week to learn these skills.
- Polish your LinkedIn profile by adding more connections and personal recommendations.
- Build an expandable target list of companies where you’d like to work (regardless of whether there’s an existing job listing).
- Search your LinkedIn connections for anyone who works at your target companies or is connected to contacts at these companies and begin a systematic approach for reaching out.
One of my favorite ways to ease into this framework is to create a document to track your job search, including job applications, target companies, connections and any immediate action steps needed. I’ve had clients create their tracking systems with a comprehensive spreadsheet, while others opt for pen, paper and Post-its.
As you establish your goals, it’s important to have realistic expectations for what you can get done, given the other facets of your life. Don’t overpromise on these goals, but don’t under commit. The objective is to set yourself up for success, retain a balance between your job search and personal life and end each week with a sense of accomplishment.
adjust your focus
When clients begin coaching with me, they’re often filled with emotion from a recent job separation, especially if they’ve worked at a company for a long time. Many are having a crisis of confidence, which impacts the hope about their prospects. I hear variations of, ‘No one is hiring because of the pandemic,’ and the more recent ‘No one is hiring because the holidays are coming up,’ to the evergreen, ‘No one is hiring people my age,’ with the subtext of these being, ‘I’m afraid that no one will ever hire me.’ This kind of sentiment can occur at the beginning of a job search and often deepens as months pass with no offer.
I understand these feelings firsthand from my own challenging career transition and I’m guided by the hindsight that I gave the mistakes I made more weight than they deserved. I remind my clients that these assumptions are based on a future that doesn’t yet exist. And the way to prevent this future is by continually adjusting the focus from the vague and unknowable, to the concrete, immediate, step-by-step tasks at hand, which you’re now creating with your framework.
build your competitive edge
I decided to become a career coach after 20 years in the film industry, when I unexpectedly lost my job. The journey to this decision was long and winding and I couldn’t have predicted, even months before it happened, that one day I would be back in school, writing reports and taking exams to become an accredited coach. What I finally came to understand while looking for a job is that I needed retraining to be a more competitive candidate. Even if your goal is to land a lateral position, consider taking a stand-alone class relevant to your field or if you have the time, explore a certification program to add to your skill set.
The skills needed to excel in any job constantly evolve and showing a commitment to continual learning will help you stand out to potential employers. Holding yourself accountable to learning new skills will also give you a sense of accomplishment. After all the ups and downs on my journey to land a job, it was such a relief to be learning again, where success was dependent only on me and a willingness to do the work. Expanding your base of knowledge puts you back in charge. Find a way to build it into your week.
search for solace in the hidden benefits
The experience of looking for a job can be disorienting. Let’s say you’ve spent most of your adult life working 40-plus hours a week and during that time, you’ve longed for a moment with some free time. And here it is. Now you have time to fill with no structure and it’s daunting – but it can also be rewarding.
During the pandemic that has upended all our lives, I’ve coached many parents of school-aged children. Despite the anxiety of the job search and not knowing when it will come to an end, most of the parents I coach are grateful to have this time at home with their children. Some of my clients have aging parents and they’ve had the flexibility to extend a level of care that might not have been possible while they worked. I’ve coached people who have developed an exercise regimen for the first time in years, whether it’s taking long walks every day or lifting weights in the garage. I’m inspired by clients who are learning a new language on a mobile app or experimenting with Japanese and Indian cuisine as the designated cook in the family. Outside the time you spend focused on your job search, create structure with your newfound free time and soak in the surprising benefits.
take a break from looking for a job
When my clients finally land a job after a long and difficult search, I like to ask them a few closing questions. ‘What’s your biggest learning from the experience?’ ‘What do you want to remember should you ever be in a job search again?’ ‘How did you navigate the ups and downs?’
Just this week, I spoke with someone with whom I’d worked. He came to many of our sessions filled with despair about his future. But throughout, he continued to rely on his framework of weekly, achievable goals. He regularly reached out to his connections, even though he dreaded networking and it was one of his least favorite things to do. One day, a former coworker in his network gave him a tip about a job and after months of dead-end opportunities, this one clicked. The hiring process moved quickly and he received an offer for a thrilling job within weeks. When I asked him my set of questions, he responded, ‘Take a breath. Take a day off. Rest, reboot and start again tomorrow.’
Looking for a job will have its ups and downs. Establish a routine, continue to expand your mind, take care of your body and be grateful for the unexpected pleasures. This will help you find the resilience to stay in the process for the ultimate ‘up’ when the right job offer comes through.