I got the opportunity to search for a job this winter! I’ve been continuously employed since I was 15, so this was an immensely educational experience. Ultimately I found I had 10 lessons I’d impart to others in the same situation.
Key Stats from my Job Search:
- 10 Weeks Unemployed
- 140 “Job Search Activities” Logged
- 85 Application Packages Submitted
- 25 In-Person Job Interviews Attended
- 8 Job Offers Received
The first thing I learned really should go without saying: The Employment Security Departmental guidelines are the bare minimum and woefully inadequate. To qualify for unemployment benefits, you need to actively seek work. Amazingly, to satisfy this, “you must have a combined total of three employer contacts or approved job-search activities each week.” (“Job search activities” include things like applications, inquiries, and interviews.)
Just three? For a whole week?!
If you’re unemployed, you have time to make more than three calls in a week. That brings us to lesson #1:
1. Getting a job is your job.
Your title has become professional job seeker. You used to spend 40 hours each week working for your boss. Now is the time to put that much effort into working for yourself. You may be jobless, but you still have a very important job: Getting back to work.
Being unemployed is hard work. Set your alarm, make your coffee, tune out distractions, and get to work. Setting a routine is extremely important–as anyone who’s ever worked from home knows. Not only is the TV and the internet available, but even boring old chores can become tempting. (“I really should do that thing I’ve been meaning to do.”)
For me, the unemployed workweek was just like an employed one: get up, get ready, and get to work. Short lunch, back to work, then off to the gym, before coming home and cooking dinner. The rhythm helps. That said…
2. Take a week to figure it out.
It’s easy to think that you need to dive right into the job search, but are you sure you know what you want to do? Really sure? Will you recognize what you want when you see it?
I took a week to do what I would call high school guidance counseling. I thought deeply about what I liked and didn’t like about my career thus far. I called friends and family and asked for their honest appraisals of my strengths and weaknesses. I even took some personality tests to see if I could dredge up any surprising hopes and dreams.
If you’re job searching after a termination or a layoff, it’s vital to take some time to process your emotions about the situation and to dig deep into your own faults in it. Mourn the loss, decide what position you want, and then be the kind of person that gets it. That is…
3. Establish your brand.
If you’re not in marketing, the idea of a personal brand can be slippery and ephemeral. In this sense, all I mean by establishing your brand is to know and broadcast your strengths. Combine your best personality traits with your professional skills and experience, and package yourself as the perfect candidate for the job you’re after.
Since I’m into branding anyway, I took things a step further by designing a unique, visual résumé and pairing it with some chunky double-sided business cards. I crafted my verbiage carefully, and then I duplicated my professional look and feel across paper and digital profiles. I didn’t want recruiters to find any discord among the messages of my résumé, my social media, and my website.
Which reminds me, this very website was conceived as a job search tool. With a professional portfolio and articles about my marketing expertise and outlook, it was central to my job search. Every application was emailed from an @skylerreep.com email address with the intent of driving recruiters here.
I’ve built sites before, so it didn’t take me more than a few hours and dollars to get it fired, up. Which leads us to another lesson about job searching these days…
4. It’s easier now―if you’re comfortable on the web.
I know I just told you that you need to spend 40 hours a week looking for a job, and (done right) it’s hard work. But it can’t be as hard as it must have been in the past. Job postings are online and applications and résumé-submissions are done on the web. Email is one of the preferred methods of first contact for many recruiters. And even companies without any posted openings can be researched and contacted digitally.
Compare that to searching the help wanted section of the classified ads, mailing or dropping off résumés, and calling about jobs with little or no information.
These days, one can discover a position, research the qualifications, tailor a custom résumé, and apply directly to the hiring manager without leaving the computer. The process can take under an hour! (Another reason I think the Unemployment Security Department’s requirements for benefits should be toughened.)
5. Think outside the box.
Once the paychecks stop, every dollar becomes precious. It can be frightening to invest in a job search. Take the calculated risk!
To me, it was worth the initial expense to order chunky new business cards (you can’t use your old ones!) and print résumés on linen paper. I also bought this website domain and paid for a premium account on LinkedIn.
The riskiest move I made was to put my money where my mouth was. I claimed part of my expertise lay in pay-per-click advertising, so I bought social ads and search engine marketing to drive business owners, managers, and recruiters to my website.
If you owned the kinds of companies for which I wanted to work in Spokane, you probably saw an ad like this:
Did it work?
I got some site visitors, and even a few interview invitations, but ultimately not the offer I wanted. But it was a worthwhile gamble and one I would make again in the same situation.
6. They’re right: networking matters.
It was probably your college advisor who turned you on to the fact that you should be networking. One of the more jaded perspectives on post-secondary education is that the value of your alma mater is really in the networking opportunities among alumni.
Networking has gotten a bad wrap. Attending mixers, meetings, and organized networking events is often (fairly) labeled “notworking.”
But I can tell you I called every person I knew even slightly, while I was on the hunt for work. If we’d exchanged cards and you were in my field, you probably heard from me. I took dozens of people out to coffee (another worthwhile financial gamble) to see what they knew.
Some of my stronger leads came through these meetings, and my search could easily have ended at one of them in particular. Ultimately I got a lot of good advice, and a bit of much-needed personal interaction.
7. Your relationships are your safety net.
A career-change―regardless of the circumstance―is an upset to one’s routine (at best) and to one’s self-esteem or even self-worth (at worst).
Call your folks.
Call your friends and family, and meet with them on their lunch breaks. Buy coffee, or at least be the first to offer. You have a lot to process, and your friends and family know you best. Conversation with people who know you will energize you, when your looking-for-work-week is getting a little long. They’ll help you see your own strengths, and they’ll help you spot new opportunities.
Like my lesson on networking, this is a lesson for all of us: maintain your relationships, so they’re healthy and able to maintain you.
8. References and recommendations are still key.
Ask you colleagues and bosses for a recommendation. Do it today. Do it broadly. Offer to write one in return, and be generous. The strongest part of my application packet is the two-dozen professional recommendations I’ve cultivated over a decade.
Ask early, while things are good! You never know when the tide might change.
***Update*** I learned later that my last boss’ recommendation was the deciding factor for my new boss to bring me in for an interview. That was my foot in the door. So seriously, go ask your colleagues for a recommendation of your work.
9. Stay organized.
Log everything. I’m type-A anyway, so of course I built a spreadsheet; but keep track of the jobs for which you apply, the people with whom you speak, the interviews you attend, and your thoughts and feelings about each of them.
The reason I have the stats that opened this article is that I had to keep things organized. Think you can keep 85 companies and their associated openings clear in your head? Think you can keep Karen from Company A straight after taking a call from Sharon at Company B? Did you wear your navy suit to the first interview or the charcoal?
Of course, a log is one of the requirements of collecting unemployment insurance, but I can’t imagine trying to keep that many balls in the air with the small amount of information required on the provided sheets. Build your own log, and update it religiously.
10. Don’t look for a job over the holidays (if you can help it).
I considered excluding this one entirely, because you may have no say at all about what time of year you’ll be job-searching. Let me just say that from November to December you’ll hear a lot of soft rejections, delays, and waffling.
It’s not you!
At the end of the year, companies (and the people who work in them) have their minds well-occupied. The end of the year is crunch-time in a lot of industries, and it’s a time when the bottom line is about to be set in stone. Would you really want to on-board and train a new employee―and begin payroll taxes―during such a busy time of year?
Additionally, individual managers and business owners are stretched thin. On top of work, there’s travel to plan and gifts to buy and parties to attend.
I sought work from the beginning of November to mid-January. I had double the number of interviews in the first two weeks of the year that I had in the previous two months.
If you find yourself looking over Thanksgiving and Christmas, just ride it out. You’ll be back at work shortly after New Year’s.
I hope the lessons I learned during my job search can help you shorten your own. Even if you’re comfortably and safely employed; lessons six, seven, and eight are vital steps you can take to bolster your career and your marketability.
Please share this article with your contacts and friends who are on the hunt. As always, I’d love your feedback in the comments section. Best of luck!