Job search strategies (Full info)

Nine-point plan

Most job hunters instinctively begin their search by flooding employers with carefully crafted, but often ineffective, CVs. But since many openings go unadvertised, successful job seekers require more thoughtful approaches.

Try the following suggestions for a more productive job search:

1. Structure your days
Job hunting is a full-time job. Although it is tempting to exploit your free time, don’t start going fishing mid-week or sleeping late. Get up at your usual hour, shower, eat breakfast and go to ‘work’. The trick is to spend time every weekday working towards finding a job.

2. Research first
Comprehensive research is your guide to success. It shows potential employers that you do your homework and keep ahead of the pack. Multiply your opportunities by researching numerous companies within your target industries and geographic region(s).

Analyse a target company’s last three annual reports, promotional sales materials, trade publications and any relevant magazine articles to familiarise yourself with the overall industry, your target company’s corporate culture and its key executives.

Don’t overlook internet resources ¿ search engines can be very helpful in compiling facts to use during interviews or in crafting resumes.

3. Determine recruitment patterns
It is also crucial to determine if your target company expects to be downsizing, maintaining a stable workforce or recruiting soon. If, for example you want to work in marketing, find out that specific department’s recruiting outlook. It’s not uncommon for large companies to simultaneously recruit in one department while downsizing others.

4. Use your professional organisation
Even if you’re just starting out on a career, professional associations are a great resource for job leads, mentoring and research. Professional associations can also keep you ‘in the loop’. Contact other professionals to tell them of your goals and to ask for guidance. You never know when one might say “Call this person and say I referred you.”

5. Keep knocking
Follow up on a letter of introduction or an initial interview with a timely phone call. Keep it short and to the point. Ask if your letter was received and if any additional information is desired. If necessary, leave your message on their voice mail.

6. Sell your talents
During your first meeting with an executive, avoid discussing specific positions. Initially, work on bonding with your interviewer by discussing your insights about the company and how your skills complement their corporate strategy.

Avoid the deadly “I will do anything” trap. It sounds desperate. Instead, state specifically what positions best fit your qualifications. Employers want applicants to possess specific personal qualities, tangible professional credentials and well-articulated career objectives.

Be prepared with some penetrating questions. Executives like applicants who know the right questions to ask when problem solving or developing strategy.

Ask specific questions regarding current projects, industry trends, employee turnover, ratio of managers to employees, dispute resolution processes, recent innovations, company reputation, company business plans and goals, lines of authority and company expectations.

7. Respect their time
If you asked for 20 minutes of an executive’s time, under all circumstances respect that time commitment. Make sure the employer feels in control of the process, including the time involved. Be sensitive to when the employer seems to be getting fidgety. When your time is up, sum up your meeting with an action item, such as bringing letters of recommendation or your CV by tomorrow morning. If the executive wants to talk with you longer, you will be invited to stay.

8. Rewrite your CV
Under most circumstances do not bring your CV to your initial meeting. Carefully revise your CV based on the intelligence you gathered at your informational meeting. For easier revisions always maintain your CV on a PC.

9. Remain upbeat
Looking for work is laden with untold emotionally draining rejections. Don’t take rejection personally.

Share feelings with supportive people. Avoid getting too excited or too discouraged. Reward yourself with a special treat at each step in your job search.

Apply for multiple jobs simultaneously and view interviews as opportunities to work on your interviewing skills, not as ‘do or die’ situations. This alleviates your stress because all your eggs aren’t in one basket.


Reading job ads

When it comes to recruitment advertising, even the most intelligent and clued-up adults seem happy to suspend their disbelief and take everything they read as gospel.

Job adverts don’t lie – they just exaggerate the truth. That’s why, when you turn up for an interview at the “fast-growing, young, dynamic company”, it’s possible to discover that it’s a brand new operation with one client, run from a garage by a middle-aged man with a word-processor and big ambitions.

Like all other forms of advertising copy, job adverts are written by copywriters – people employed to sell you the job. Many of them don’t even work for the organisation which has a vacancy – they’re consultants, briefed on the company and the job spec.

“The idea is to make the job sound as good as possible without telling fibs,” says the spokesperson for an advertising agency specialising in recruitment and HR Services.

“A recruitment advert is also an ideal platform for the client to beat their own PR drum, as it may be seen by shareholders, customers and competitors, as well as potential recruits.”

In creative terms, selling a job is just like selling a chocolate bar – with one important difference. In product advertising, the bigger the response, the better. However, a company with a vacancy doesn’t want hundreds of responses. It would rather attract only a small number of the most suitable candidates.

A good recruitment ad will act as a preselector, screening out unsuitable applicants by specifying the necessary qualities and qualifications as clearly as possible.

Applying for a job that you don’t really want – or can’t do – is a waste of everybody’s time. The solution? You need to learn how to read between the lines of job adverts, to ignore the hype and focus on the facts.

Few people spend long enough looking at job adverts. Research has shown that people scan them for between one and two seconds. So slow down – applying for a job isn’t a race.

When you read a job ad you should ask yourself three questions: First, who is the advertiser? Second, what is the job on offer? And third, what exactly are they looking for? Only when you’ve answered all these questions should you think about applying for the job.

You need to be informed about the organisation in order to make a proper application. How big is it? Have you ever heard of it? Does it have a good reputation? What are its prospects, and its ethics? Find out by looking it up on the web, in business directories or in newspapers.

Like the sound of the company? Now it’s time to examine the job. Remember, a job title often has very little to do with the job. Every position in the world is now described as a ‘manager’ or ‘consultant’. It’s just a hook. You could find yourself managing the tea trolley.

What you want to know is what the tasks and responsibilities are and how much you’ll get paid. Often companies skate over the duties because they don’t know quite what you’ll be doing. Watch out for this.

And beware qualifying phrases like “dependent on abilities”, “subject to qualifications”, or “circa” – this usually means they’ll pay you at the bottom of the scale. An “on target earnings” figure might make you think “wow!”, but it’s just what their best ever performer earned once. You’ll get a measly minimum amount.

It’s important to take into account the entire job package, not just the salary. A car, company pension and health insurance are all valuable benefits, as are promises of training leading to professional qualifications (if they offer it, they’ll pay for it).

The company’s fantastic, the job’s ideal… but do you have what it takes? The advert says they want someone with the charm of Robbie Williams, the brains of Steven Hawking and the integrity of Nelson Mandela. Surely no one’s like that.

You’re right. Job ads describe an ideal employee who probably doesn’t exist. This is deliberate, it keeps the number of applications down. Don’t panic. If the advert says “preferably” or “ideally”, it means these requirements aren’t set in concrete. It’s only if it says “you must be” or “you must have” that you must ensure you have the right experience or qualities before you apply.

It’s all a game. Every company wants a determined, dynamic, confident, all round marvellous person, but you can’t measure these qualities scientifically. After all, a company isn’t very likely to ask for a lazy, shrinking violet, who can’t get out of bed in the morning, is it?

Finally, beware of wacky or outrageous ads (unless they’re for an advertising agency). Some companies will try anything to grab your attention. It often means the job isn’t very attractive, or the company or profession has a high turnover. A great ad doesn’t mean it’s a great job – it just means the company has spent a lot of money.


Using recruitment consultants

Bright, well-qualified job hunters are to a recruitment consultant what a lottery winner is to a Ferrari dealer – a precious commodity. If they find you a job, they pick up a commission. Unfortunately, this means they do not necessarily have your best interests at heart.

So always remember that the consultants are working for the employers. They will tell you they are giving careers advice, but you should not always trust it – it may be advice that fits in with their commercial objectives.

Despite this a good recruitment consultant can be a great asset in your search for the right job, as long as you approach them with the right attitude and understand the rules of engagement.

The first thing to remember is to do your research before signing up with a consultant. Most recruitment consultants specialise in one or two areas of the job market. It is also becoming more common for employers to sign up with a ‘preferred’ consultant.

So check you are signing on with the right agency – if necessary ring up any companies you would like to work for and find out which consultant they use. This will probably mean signing up with several different agencies, although three or four should be enough.

Stories abound of job hunters who waste time and money chasing positions for which they are patently unsuited. A recruitment consultant is not an insurance against this happening to you.

Consider this true story of the pharmaceutical sales recruitment agency, which told a graduate that she would be in the running for a job if she was prepared to forgo a week’s paid employment to shadow a sales person to give her on-the-job experience.

The consultant then persuaded the candidate to travel from London to Manchester at her own expense for an interview. Yet, despite all her efforts, on her arrival the company told her it was clear from her application form that she was totally unsuitable for the job.

The moral of this story is you should check how the agency operates before you sign on the dotted line. A professional consultant should conduct a thorough interview with all prospective candidates before sending them to meet clients.

If the agency tells you to simply fill in a form and they’ll put you on the database, the chances are you are wasting your time.

An interview with the consultant is important because, not only does it give you an opportunity to check out the company and ensure you like them, it is also your opportunity to sell yourself.

It helps if you go to the interview well prepared. Do your research before the meeting. Have some idea of the area you’d like to work in. And be clear about what you have to offer. What are your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re not sure, talk to your parents, friends or past employers.

Perhaps the most common abuse practised by consultants is not briefing candidates before sending out their CV to a potential employer. Do not sign on with an agency unless it agrees to check all potential jobs with you first.

This ensures your name will only be put forward for jobs that really interest you. According to REC, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and the industry body for consultants, it is now standard practice among its members to ensure candidates agree each application, so make sure the agency is a member of REC when you sign up.

Recruitment consultants specialise in job ads promising a “lively working environment”, “excellent career prospects” and “first-rate remuneration”.

But, when the big moment arrives and the job offer is on the table, make sure you are clear about the terms of employment and feel it is the right job for you before you accept. If necessary take some independent advice.

Recruitment consultants can be very useful, they can get you the job that you want. But they will try and sell you the job they want to fill, so be very sure that you want that job.

And finally, although these warning have probably been enough to ensure the most world-weary amongst you will approach consultants with suspicion, try to put this aside and be open and friendly when you meet them.

Treating a consultant with suspicion will not pay dividends. It is a maxim of human nature that people help you more if they like you.


Personal PR campaigns

Once upon a time there was a little boy called Richard Branson. He played with his friends, cheated in school exams and scraped his knees – like any other little boy. He didn’t have a beard and no one thought to comment on the style of his sweaters. He wasn’t expected to amount to much.Fast forward a few decades. The same Richard Branson is now regarded as one of Britain’s most successful – and wealthy – businessman. What’s more, he’s a household name. How did he manage it? Luck: certainly. Talent and initiative: definitely. But his place in the nation’s hearts and minds is down to one thing: an irrepressible and tireless drive for self-publicity. He’s a one-man PR campaign.

You may not wish to be the next Richard Branson, but if you want to stand out in the crowd you should take note. You’ve got dreams, you want fame? Well right here’s where you start paying: by learning how to conduct your own, personal, career-long PR campaign.

For advice on how to get yourself noticed, who better to ask than PR guru to the stars (and tabloid wannabes), Max Clifford. But if you’re expecting him to suggest a spectacular publicity stunt in your office, you’ll be disappointed – his advice is practical, sensible and surprisingly low key:

“Use your common sense and make the best of yourself,” he says. “The most important thing is to be interested – and to appear interested. Look for opportunities to find out as much as you can about the company, its culture and its clients by asking questions, looking around and listening. Then, when the time is right, come up with ideas that will be beneficial to the organisation. It shows you care and that you have initiative.”

But it’s no good revealing your revolutionary business plan to the tea lady (although it will help your image if she likes you). Achieving career success means getting noticed by the right people.

“Always speak to the person nearest the top of the organisation as possible,” says Max. “That way no one can pinch your ideas. You can arrange to quietly bump into someone when they’re leaving. But be keen, not pushy – it’s important to be aware of the rules of office politics. Remember, there’s a fine line between being cocky and being assertive: it’s all about presentation.”

Good presentation also means looking the part. Drop the ever-popular grey/black/navy suit for something lighter and brighter in colour. Bright colours reflect optimism, cheerfulness and creative thinking but, most importantly, they show your independence and uniqueness and make you stand out in the crowd.

Take note: you may look pretty in pink but if you want to keep your bank account in the black, never flout the office dress code.

Raising your profile is a delicate exercise in balance. Demand attention, shout people down or criticise existing procedures and you’ll only harm your prospects and create enemies. But be too cautious and you’ll be sidelined.

Make sure your timing is good. Always prioritise and get involved in projects which you know to be particularly high profile – they will increase your visibility. Develop a good portfolio of skills and experience that will make you marketable – study for extra qualifications or volunteer for training courses. Take on as much responsibility as you can handle.

The good news is that conducting a personal PR campaign can do wonders for your social life. You will win brownie points if you get involved in extra-curricular activities with work colleagues. Join in with charity events and sponsored walks etc. Or why not set up something like this yourself?

Finally, remember who you are and what you want. Have a ready-made self-statement at hand – just in case you get the opportunity to talk to someone influential. The statement should summarise who you are, your level of expertise and the direction you want to go in. The world of work is changing, so it’s now essential that you manage your own career.


Job clubs

Job hunting can be a difficult task when you’re not getting the results you want and you’ve nobody to support your quest. But gather a few friends together and you could make things a lot easier, particularly if you get really creative and form your very own job club.

Setting up a job club might seem like a lot of effort that could otherwise be applied to job-hunting. But when you’ve had one knock back after another a support group can be helpful. It’s useful in terms of preserving those things that are driving job search behaviour such as optimism and self-esteem.

It helps a great deal if you’ve got a good network of friends and social support. Even sharing your rebuffs can be useful. If you know it’s a common experience to have a number of rejections, you realise it’s not just your problem – it’s everyone’s problem.

Decide how formal you want your job club to be. Is it going to involve a few of your mates chatting about their career aims or will it be a slightly larger group with a structured series of seminars? Whichever you chose, work out how often you’re going to hold your meetings and where. But avoid gathering at the table nearest to the bar, as your job hunting aims are likely to end up a little out of focus.

Set out a timetable of topics that need to be covered, such as speculative letters, interview techniques, networking and CVs. If you’re feeling entrepreneurial, find a guest speaker who will appeal to the masses, hire a lecture hall, do some marketing and charge an entrance fee for the great event.

Remember that most jobs are not advertised so you need to get used to the idea of networking if you want to maximise your chances. But be realistic about networking opportunities derived from the job club.

Even though people in the job club aren’t going to provide you with jobs, hopefully they can give you access to the people they know. It might be for a 15 minute telephone conversation or occasionally a quick after-work coffee.

The most useful way to use contacts is to get insider information about a particular sector or a particular role. And usually people are quite happy to talk to you about their job because it’s flattering.

When your job club theme for the night is on interviews, why not try a dry run? Donêt think of it as role-play but as a practice question and answer session. Brainstorm for questions or work from an interview skills book.

Afterwards, evaluate the appropriateness of the responses and try and come up collaboratively with better ones. Remember the aim is to hone interview technique and build confidence so feedback about someone’s performance should be couched in positive terms.

Once you’ve been to some interviews and assessment centres you can share those experiences with the group, particularly, when you haven’t been successful. Offer up the questions that you were asked and if you’re brave enough, all those duff answers that you gave. See if the others can come up with something better. At least you’ll learn something for next time.

Job clubs are supposed to be cooperative environments that offer support and encouragement. But what happens if two of you are chasing the same job?

Consider the competitive aspect on a case by case basis. Rather than focusing on the friend from the job club, consider them just part of the dozens and dozens of other candidates who will be vying for the role.

Ultimately, your club will be about providing the camaraderie that’s necessary when undertaking a difficult task. With some luck, a measure of humour and a lot of hard work, you’re likely to have a lot of fun. And who knows, you may find that job you’ve been looking for.




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