Could these common steps be sabotaging your job search?
You might recognize this typical job search process:
- Reach a frustration breaking point at work (or at home if you’re not currently working) & resolve to get a new job
- Go right to a job search on LinkedIn and/or a job search engine like Indeed.com
- Scroll for jobs (triggering feelings of scarcity and mild panic that you’ll never find anything suitable)
- Maybe see a) a job you could possibly do if you had to, or b) the job of a lifetime
- Grab your current resume & edit an existing cover letter
- Apply online
- Wait… wait… wait… wait…
- Internalize the silence as rejection, get bummed about your job search and throw yourself back into work (or home), soon to repeat starting at step 1
- Repeat until you get a “lucky break”
Over the years, I’ve seen countless job seekers get stuck in this endless loop. Typically, people get stuck between steps 1 and 3, where the toughest feelings of fear, doubt, and resistance creep in. And, sadly, it’s possible for some people to stay stuck in the first three steps over and over for years.
If you do make it to Step 6, though, you’re likely to find yourself very quickly in Step 8, where your momentum withers and you retreat into the “safety” of your daily tasks.
But here’s the cold truth:
EVERY SINGLE STEP ABOVE HURTS YOUR JOB SEARCH
Although the steps above may seem like a reasonable approach to a job search, and represent what most people do regularly, they’re not part of a well-executed job search strategy.
Let’s take a closer look:
Step 1. Reach a frustration breaking point at work (or at home if you’re not currently working) & resolve to get a new job
When you examine this common job seeker pattern closely, you’ll see the job search exists as a reactive response rather than a proactive, well-thought-out strategy.
Use your frustrations to propel you, if you must, but set a strategic job search plan and follow it whether you’re frustrated, happy, confident, hungry, scared or proud. Your mood should be independent of your job search activity.
Step 1. Set and follow a job search plan on a regular basis.
Step 2. Go right to a job search on LinkedIn and/or a job search engine like Indeed.com
Although job search engines “scratch the itch” of thinking you’re doing a job search, in fact, jumping right on them when you’re already upset can be counterproductive and put you in a worse mood. Plus, just using a job board for a job search is like working out just your shins and calling it a complete workout. There’s much more involved in an effective job search.
Make sure you don’t mistake using a job search engine for conducting a job search. Rotate between networking outreach, company research, market research, occasional job board research, and other job search activities regularly.
Step 2. Use job search engines sparingly, and mostly as a research tool.
Step 3. Scroll for jobs (triggering feelings of scarcity and mild panic that you’ll never find anything suitable)
When you DO use a job search engine, chances are that you’re using it incorrectly. Most people enter their desired job title and then begin to scroll through listings. Of course, it’s possible you may stumble across something that way, but more often than not, you’re faced with a ton of mismatching results. It’s similar to going to a recipe engine and typing “chicken” – while hoping you happen to find a recipe that only uses ingredients already in your fridge. It’s unlikely that you’ll find it quickly or at all, and even if you do, you won’t be using your time efficiently.
Instead, search for job postings (past or present, local or remote, it doesn’t matter) that are similar to jobs you’d like. Then research LinkedIn for how people who hold the job you want talk about their roles. Create a targeted list of keywords and mix and match them regularly. Use multiple keywords at once. Set up alerts for the best keywords but don’t rely on those alerts to find you everything.
Step 3. Spend time honing your keywords; don’t limit them to job titles; and rotate among searches with multiple keywords.
Step 4: Maybe see a) a job you could possibly do if you had to, or b) the job of a lifetime
Here’s what often happens when you find jobs online. Typically, people’s reactions fall into one of two camps: “I’m desperate so I’ll throw my hat in the ring even though I don’t really want it” or “OMG THIS IS THE MOST INCREDIBLE JOB EVER.”
In my experience, people get way too invested in job postings, too quickly. We’re looking for step by step research and conversations here, and getting ahead of yourself emotionally (good or bad) is also counterproductive. When you come to an immediate conclusion based solely on the words you see in a carefully crafted job posting, you’re setting yourself up for a roller coaster of an emotional ride.
Compare the job posting (or a job you hear about if it’s not a posting) to a rubric you’ve established for your ideal role. If there’s a high match to what you want, take the next step. If not, decide whether to research further or move on. But don’t get emotionally invested. Patience, persistence, research and healthy emotional distance will be your best friends in the job search process.
Step 4. Don’t judge a job posting by its cover; consider it the first step in a research project.
Step 5: Grab your current resume & edit an existing cover letter
Understandably, we all want speed in the job search. And, truth be told, not that many people like editing resumes. However, it’s a mistake to send in a mismatched resume plus a (mostly similar) cover letter that you’ve used before.
Unless you’re an exact match with the exact same job title, same responsibilities and same geographic location but working for a close competitor, you need to edit your materials thoroughly. Every time.
Step 5. Look at your resume with fresh eyes for every opportunity, and create new cover letters (if you even need one) for a specific need at a specific organization.
Step 6: Apply online
Applying online is one possible option, but not always the best. You’ve probably heard it before, but it bears repeating: first, see if you know-anyone-who-knows-anyone. LinkedIn’s the best tool for that, but you can also do that other ways. However, although I’m suggesting that applying online’s not your only option, please don’t misinterpret that as permission todo crazy things like send a balloon messenger with your resume. Having been the recipient of those kinds of applications, I can tell you that they don’t go over well.
Step 6. (You’ve heard this one already but might not follow through on it enough:) Investigate connections, and connections of connections, to see if you can have a personal introduction and bypass the online application.
Step 7: Wait… wait… wait…
Once you’ve made a connection (or submitted a resume) into a company, that’s just one step in your research. Your work’s not nearly done. If you spent the time to reach out, you can bolster your chances of getting to the next step by looking for additional connections, mining LinkedIn about their people/company, doing company research (product, news, trends, etc.), and making sure you’d be thoroughly prepared should they call you for an interview. It’s like the application is buying one raffle ticket to your dream job, but you have options to get many more tickets through your additional supporting activities.
Step 7. Think of a resume submission as only one step in the process of getting to an interview, and don’t wait for the company to do all the work for you (they might not).
Step 8: Internalize the silence as rejection, get bummed about your job search and throw yourself back into work (or home), soon to repeat starting at step 1
See step 1 for tips on job searching “rain or shine” so that you’re not in an emotionally vulnerable state when you search. Then see step 4, not investing yourself too much in any one posting. Beyond that, recognize that companies have their own reasons for hiring/not hiring that could have nothing to do with you, or what’s written on the job description. Having written lots of job descriptions, I can say with conviction that they only tell part of the story. Until you have in-depth conversations with the organization, you have no way of knowing if you’re missing out OR lucking out by not getting contacted for a possible role.
Step 8. Detach emotionally and recognize that a job description’s only a small part of what the company’s looking for. Keep your spirits up and keep your outreach consistent.
Step 9: Repeat until you get a “lucky break”
When it comes to a job search, luck only plays a tiny part. Your consistency of effort does the rest.
Step 9. Follow your planned out job search process consistently, no matter your emotional state.
You might think you’re immune to reflexively falling into this process – that’s great if you are! – but just last week, I talked to 4 different job seekers who had been following the original 9 steps. The panic/job board habit cycle was so ingrained in them that they were forgetting to step back and look at the bigger picture of a job search.
The truth is that, if you work on your job search diligently without relying on job boards, you’ll build momentum and avoid the emotional whiplash most job seekers dread. Replace your habitual steps with a better process, and you’ll soon feel much more progress in your search.