Once you’ve deduced what kind of career you want to have, how do you go about getting a foot on the ladder and land a job in your desired industry?
Unfortunately, especially in this uncertain economic climate, it’s far from an easy task. However, as with anything in life, it becomes much easier if you have a clearly defined strategy.
In the military they teach the principle of ‘selection and maintenance of the target’, the idea being that it is best to pick one objective that you want to achieve and pour all you energy into that, rather than spreading your energies over several tasks.
Job seekers should also take this law to heart. Unfortunately, many job fall into an aimless cycle of applying for any old job they might be capable of doing. As, we’ve seen in the article on choosing a career, the narrower and more focused your aim, the more chance you have of realising it.
In light of this fact, Job searching’s number one golden rule is to remember the three Fs; Focus, Focus, Focus! Use the criteria of your dream role to eliminate jobs that don’t match up closely enough with your ideal role and avoid the temptation to simply carpet bomb the world with copies of your CV in the hope something will turn up.
You should start by creating a list of the companies you would most like to work for and the roles you would most like to fill. Turn your attentions toward them, before casting your net wider. When you do, be sure to use your time in the most effective manner possible.
Making the Most of Your Time
If you’re looking for a job, then, in a way, you already have one; the task of finding work!
This may sound factious, but maintaining the right attitude is absolutely vital to a successful job search. You really do need to think of job hunting as your 9-5.
Of course, you may already have a form of formal work which you are looking to leave or supplement. In this case, making the most of the time available to you is, if anything, even more important, as you’ll have less of it. Therefore, the same fundamental approach in attitude is required.
Making the most of your time is easier if you break it up into a schedule of smaller units. Rather than thinking to yourself that you have all day to ‘job search’, break the day up hour by hour, and break the general activity of ‘job searching’ into specific tasks.
You can give yourself a basic outline for a schedule by dividing up your job searching time along the following proportions; 60% networking, 20% speculative applications, 20% responding to adverts.
You may find this a surprising proposal, indeed, before reading this article you may have been intending to conduct your search more along the following lines; 0% networking, 0% speculative applications, 100% responding to adverts and attending the Job Centre!
That formula, though very commonly used, is less likely to reap the rewards you’re seeking and will also probably take longer.
The Invisible Job Market
Why should it be the case that responding to job ads is of only of equal importance to sending speculative applications, and significantly less important than networking?
The simple answer is that employers, being, for the most part, adverse to risk, would rather avoid the considerable time and expense involved in advertising a job, if instead they can have a good candidate recommended to them by somebody they know and trust. The need to advertise is further reduced if the company receives a good number of speculative CVs anyway, simply off the strength of its reputation (or the high number of eager job seekers out there!)
Indeed, it is estimated that, for these reasons, well over half of the job vacancies available at any one time are never advertised. Therefore, if you are only responding to ads in your job search, you’ve, at a stroke, knocked yourself out of contention for more than 50% of all the positions available!
When you’re after work, this isn’t something you can afford to be doing, so, before getting in to how to apply for advertised vacancies, let’s first take a look at the alternatives.
So, we’ve established that networking is of far more importance than many give it credit for, but how do you actually go about doing it?
A big part of the reason that networking often gets neglected as part of a job searcher’s routine is that a lot of people simply do not know how to do it. It doesn’t help that some are intimidated, thinking the activity is the preserve of high flyers in a select few industries.
This is simply not the case, and there are almost no jobs that networking cannot be used to help obtain. In addition, many people hold onto the misconception that networking is in some way ‘cheating’, or an attempt to get an unfair advantage over other potential candidates.
The expression ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ will, quite rightly, be irksome to those who want to be judged on their abilities, rather than their contacts. What these people fail to realise is that networking is about using ‘who you know’ to promote ‘what you know’, not to skirt around it. If you consider yourself a capable candidate, surely it makes sense to network and get the word out there?
Networking is all about increasing the number of people who are aware of your qualities, and may, at some point be able to refer you to an employer, or point you towards a great opening that isn’t being advertised to the public.
Luckily, the maths is on your side. Metcalfe’s law says that the value of a community grows as the square of its number of users increases. Confused? In plain English this means, that if you double your number of contacts, the value of your network is quadrupled.
So, how to go about making more contacts? First, list everyone you know, from past colleagues, to old school friends, to relatives, to your hairdresser. Include everyone you can, as you never now who might be able to help.
Contact these people, explaining you situation and asking if they might be able to put you in touch with anyone who may be able to help you with relevant advice or information. You fill find you probably already have some interesting leads on your hands.
Once you have leads that may be able to introduce you to somebody helpful, or give you their contact details, you need to make sure you make the right impression. Ideally, you want to set up a meeting with them where you can have an informal chat about your situation.
The best way to go about setting this up would usually be a phone call, but you could also try using email. It is best to ask only for a short audience of 15-20 minutes or so. They will probably give you more, but avoid coming across as pushy by asking for it straight off the bat.
Make sure you are clear in your own mind beforehand about what it is you wish to gain from the conversation with regards to the type of information, new contacts or advice they might be able to give you. Make sure you do relevant research in advance and be careful to avoid dominating the conversation.
People are generally most eloquent and forthcoming when talking about themselves (as long as they don’t feel they are being put on the spot!) so by asking general, leading, open questions that allow the other party give details of their own experiences, you’re likely to glean more useful information than if you hammer them with a volley of very specific queries.
It is also advisable to avoid making attempts to keep the chat purely business orientated. You want to retain contacts in a meaningful way, hopefully by finding some common ground. So, if, for instance, they want to talk about the match they saw last night, it is more worth while spending a few moments talking about it than instantly trying to steer the conversation back to your need for a job, pressing though it may be.
Keep a record of all the people you meet, as it can be easy for things to be forgotten, especially if you’re going all out on the networking front. You also need to keep track of everyone who has helped you out, so you can return the favour someway! Even if someone can’t help you at that precise moment, it doesn’t mean they might not be of use in the future.
Meeting Groups/ Networking Events
It is possible to speed up the process of building a list of contacts by attending networking events and other functions where you will have a lot of chances to meet multiple people who have an insight into the industry you are trying to break into.
When attending such events, think about what it is you have to offer people as a contact yourself, rather than seeing the exchange as solely one way traffic.
Remember also that, whilst you do want to gain as many contacts as possible, as with any other form of human interaction, quality outstrips, quantity. Having a few genuine conversations and making a real connection with a handful of useful people is a far better policy than racing around the room, introducing yourself to absolutely everyone, then talking at them for a minute or two.
If you do all these things, you will, at the very least increase your understanding of the world you are attempting to join. At best you will get ahead of the competition by hearing about opportunities, or even getting referrals and recommendations to one of the companies you are targeting.
The rise of the internet has had such a profound effect on our lives that there are now very few social activities that do not have an online equivalent. Networking is no exception.
As well as using the internet to research companies you’d like to work for and individuals you’d like to make contact with, you can also use outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, to actually share information and meet people.
In fact, social media is such a helpful tool for finding a job that, even if you’d never use it for your own pleasure, you should set up accounts with the big social media sites, specifically for the purpose of your job search.
Whilst they have by no means eliminated the need to meet people face to face, these technological advances provide great tools for maintaining and adding to your network of contacts.
Speculative Job Ads
The other way to tap into the ‘invisible jobs market’ we talked about earlier, is to send speculative applications.
You may think this is a waste of time, and that the chances of getting a job via this method are too slim to bother with, but you’d be surprised by the number of opportunities that arise when you are proactive. Even if nothing is available, if you present yourself as truly great candidate, the company in question will want to keep your CV on file for future reference or they may inform you of a position elsewhere they think you could fill.
However, if you choose to make first contact by an unsolicited phone call, there’s a good chance that, just like telesales workers, you’ll find your audience less than receptive.
Emails are also very easy to ignore, or worse delete, especially for somebody opening their inbox in the midst of a busy morning to find it full of messages.
Therefore, it is always best to make your approach using a good old fashioned covering letter and CV in a physical hard copy (although, you don’t need get too old fashioned and hand write it. Word processing is definitely a better option.)
The chances of this letter being read increase greatly if you are able to address it, by name, to the person it is intended for, rather than using a generic title such Sir/Madame.
Apart from the fact that you’ve made the first step, your speculative application shouldn’t differ too much from what you’d normally be expected to do when making a job application.
The main difference is that in your covering letter you need to give a reason as to why you have chosen to write to that particular company and that particular time. (The simple fact that you need a job won’t normally be seen as a good enough reason to hire you).
This provides a good chance for you to say something about the company that demonstrates your knowledge of their operations and the industry in general. The ‘hook’ you use to introduce your letter and grab their attention could be anything, from having a read a news article about them, to your awareness of a new project they are undertaking.
You don’t need to write more than a few lines on the subject. Your letter needs to adhere to the normal conventions of a cover letter, being snappy and to the point, whilst demonstrating in a clear, quantifiable way just why they should be interested in you.
Where to Send Speculative Applications
If they are not advertising, you should be sending applications to the companies on the list of those you want to target, as well as any you hear about that sound interesting in the course of your networking activities.
Keep on eye on the news and your local surroundings, taking extra notice of any companies you notice that operate in your industry of choice or have roles similar to those that you are looking for, and write to them as well.
If you see that a company is expanding you will know that, due to the reorganization going on, their may well be jobs open, making it the perfect time for you to apply, whether the firm is advertising or not.
You can use this same logic to find out about unadvertised positions by looking, strangely enough, at job adverts. If you see that a major post is being advertised at an organization you are interested in, it is a likely sign of wider change, which may mean there are opportunities lower down the hierarchy as well.
Likewise, you should make the effort to check the industry’s trade press publications for insider information and news about what’s happening at the companies you want to work for. You will find plenty of fodder for ‘hooks’ to go into your letter.
You can also use online and printed directories to find lists of the companies in your area that work in your industry.
Responding to Adverts
Now we come to the activity you should be spending the left over 20% of your job searching time performing, namely looking for advertised vacancies and applying to those of interest.
The first thing to consider is, of course, where to look. As we discussed when looking at the importance of networking, the internet plays a massive role in all sorts of activities, and these days many job seekers spend so much time looking through online jobs listings that they can forget to check the printed press.
Neglecting printed ads is a mistake you should avoid. Indeed, depending on the industry you are interested in, you may find that printed adds are the chief way jobs are advertised, and even then, some firms may choose to advertise only in specific trade press publications.
When responding to adverts, it is always best to get your application in as soon as possible, therefore, when it comes to looking through adds in magazines and newspapers, you want to have your hands on a copy as soon as possible.
Make sure you do not limit yourself to a single, national publication, as you will miss out on a huge number of opportunities with companies that can’t afford to advertise through that medium. Often, you’ll find more relevant positions in your local paper.
For this reason, if you’d be happy to commute or move to another area in order to get work, do what you can to find out about the positions being advertised in the local press for that area. If you know people in the area, get somebody to pick up a copy and send it to you, or simply fill you in on what looks promising.
Finally, remember that, even when you’ve finished reading the jobs section, you need to stay alert to opportunities that might be hinted at or otherwise mentioned in news items.
As previously stated, if you see that a company is expanding it might be a great time to send them a CV. At other times companies might, as a cunning ploy to avoid paying to advertise their role in the jobs section, get an article written about themselves and mention that they are recruiting at the end of the news item.
By signing up to a couple of jobsites you will literally gain access to more job ads than you will ever have the time to look at. Given the huge volume of jobs now advertised online, you have to be even pickier with what you apply for than you would have otherwise been. It is always better to make a few, well thought out applications to jobs you’d really love to get, than send a ton of rushed, half hearted applications to any job that sounds vaguely ok.
When you sign up to one of these sites you can normally set your account so that you are only updated about jobs that match your search criteria, and you can ensure you don’t miss a good posting by subscribing to job alerts. You can also upload a CV to make applying for jobs quicker, however it’s highly advisable to alter your CV to match the specific role you are going for, every time you apply for a job.
Check the sites you are a member of at least twice a day, but try to avoid spending all of your allotted job search time in front of the computer screen. As well as straining your eyes, this will not be the most effective use of your time. With this in mind, it is probably best to regularly use no more than two generic job sites.
As with the rest of the job search techniques you’ll use, focus is key. Therefore, you should also seek out job sites that deal with the particular sector that you are interested in working in.
Hopefully, it goes without saying that, when searching for jobs online, your first port of call should be the careers pages on the sites of the companies that you’d most like to work for. It generally pays to go direct to the source of where you expect your dream job would come from, rather than waiting to hear about it from a second party.
How useful recruitment agencies will be to your job search will depend largely on the type of work you want to do, as they are most effective in areas that have a high level of staff turnover. This is probably why an estimated 20-25% of jobs are secured through agencies. That said, no matter how you look at it, that is a healthy figure, so, if you can afford it, it may well be worth your while to get signed up.
It is best to sign up with an agency that deals specifically with filling the type of roles you are looking to get involved in. You also need to remember that professional recruiters, are just that; professionals. This means their chief concern is earning their commission and making a living, not making sure you land your dream job.
Try and be as clear as possible in outlining exactly what it is you are after and what you can offer, to avoid either party having their time wasted.
Bear in mind that, if you are searching for a job that is significantly different from what you’ve done in the past, an agency might not be a good solution for you, as they deal in matching people with a track record of performing certain tasks to roles consisting of those same tasks.
Finally, remember that it is always likely that, for any given opening, any recruiter worth their salt will have at least a few suitable candidates on their books that they can put forward.
Which of these candidates gets the job will not effect their commission, so they will not go of their way to make sure you get it over anyone else. Therefore, you need to make sure you are as available as possible. If you cannot get to an interview at short notice, or return a call promptly, they won’t hang around waiting for you.
On the other hand, you don’t want to spoil your relationship with your consultant by being over keen and calling them up every two hours to see what they have for you. They are busy enough as it is!
Finally, when signing a contract with an agent make sure to read it thoroughly, including the small print, and make sure you know from the off set how much you are going to be paying them in fees.
Wouldn’t it be nice if, rather than you doing all the work finding a new job, great companies would go out of their way to find you and offer you a job? If you catch the eye of a professional headhunter this could be precisely what happens.
Sadly, in all honesty, for the vast majority of people, headhunters will never factor into a job search. However, by understanding how headhunters work, you can increase the chances of benefitting from their efforts.
For starters, you need to be in, or have been in, a position of such importance that it is worth paying headhunters to fill a similar vacancy. On top of this, you need to make sure you have a highly visible profile and a great reputation in your industry. As well as being excellent at your job, you can achieve this by contributing articles to trade press, giving talks at industry conferences, attending events and networking.
Offer Your Services for Free
They say that if you’re good at something, you should never do it for free. However, sometimes you need to it for free in order to prove to the world you are good at it.
Just think, if, Wayne Rooney had refused to have a kick about in the park with his mates unless somebody paid him, he’d never have had the chance to become a professional footballer, eventually earning millions.
Whilst your ambitions might not be so far fetched or glamorous, you can benefit from having a similar mind set. Obviously, many people will simply not be a financial position where they can afford to offer up their time without being compensated, however, if you can, doing unpaid work can be a great way to meet people, make contacts, earn respect, gain experience and bolster your CV.
In fact, if you are dead set on making a career change and moving into a completely new field of work, it may be well worth putting money away with a view to using it to fund a period of unpaid work experience. This will allow you to bolster your CV and make it more relevant to the kind of job you want to get.
Try and be creative when offering up your time. If you know a company you are interested in has a big project on, or are holding an event of some kind, offer to help out free of charge.
Another great idea is to ask to shadow somebody in a role that you would ideally like to see yourself in. Alternatively, you could look at applying for an internship, some of which are paid. At top companies internships are often designed so as to ensure that, even if you may not have had a chance of landing a full time role when you started, by the time you’ve finished, you will be perfect for the job.
Indeed, many companies consist entirely of employees who were once interns, and it is increasingly common for internships to be used as a sort of ultra long winded job interview, with high performing candidates being offered formal employment on the basis of the skills they demonstrated as an intern.
Next article: Help with job application forms.