1. Time things right
Many people rush at a job search and apply for roles they have little interest in or are unlikely to be shortlisted for. Not only will this pretty much guarantee rejection, it will dampen your confidence. Similarly, if you approach agencies with a poor sense of your target job, you are likely to be sidelined. The third biggest mistake is to use up all your best contacts too soon when you’re unclear how they can help. Slow down, take time to look at yourself and your confidence levels; consider how equipped you feel to summarise your strengths.
2. Take stock
Before you become a one-person marketing machine, think about what you’re selling. Do you know what you’re looking for? What job titles are relevant to you? Can you list your main skills? Do you have evidence of achievements? Which employers appeal to you and why? Don’t go near busy decision-makers until you have answers to all these questions.
3. Plan for rejection
Even in a buoyant market, rejection is common; in today’s economy you will hear no a lot more than you hear yes. To maintain your confidence and avoid becoming a job beggar desperate to take anything, cultivate resilience.
But don’t squander it by applying for jobs far outside your skills range where you’re unlikely to get any kind of response. Recruit two or three supporters who you can meet regularly to remind you what you’re good at, broaden your thinking and help pick you up when you receive inevitable knock-backs.
4. Gather evidence
Before you begin drafting a CV or stumble into interviews, list raw material from your past – without editing. Draw up a long, unfiltered list of what you’ve done. Go over every part of your experience which looks like work, including part-time, temporary, unpaid posts and work placements. List every skill you learned and practised, sectors where you have work experience and anything that looks like an achievement (see below). Then look at volunteering, your studies and activities outside work. Try to gather several pages of material before deciding on the primary message for the lead part of your CV.
5. Decide on your three main messages
Anyone who recommends you is likely to pass on only three or four items of information about you – your experience, ability and personality. You have more control over this process than you think.
Scrutinise the first few sentences of your CV. Make sure they are positive, memorable and clearly outline what you want to achieve. How likely is it that someone will repeat this information? Do you make clear what you have to offer and the kind of role you’d like to fill? Emphasise these messages in your CV, social media profile and what you say when networking.
6. Research before you job search
It’s no use trying to impress employers if you have very little sense of what will press their buttons. Do your homework thoroughly before making any kind of approach – at least two hours of research. If you’re called to interview, make your research even more thorough. Don’t just repeat information from the organisation’s website – try to speak to people who know what the organisation is trying to achieve and the kind of people they’re currently looking for. If you’re trying to make a career change, seek out people who have made the leap before you, learn the shortcuts and avoid the bear traps.
7. Market test your CV
Don’t be under the illusion that you should send out your CV widely in the early stages of your job search. It’s far better to talk to people about your career ideas and gather information than to send out a poorly drafted document, which will close more doors than it opens. You may be secretly pleased with your CV but it’s vital to show it to someone with hiring experience. Ask for a summary rather than an opinion. For example, don’t ask “what do you think of my CV?”, ask “what does my CV tell you about what I can do next?” If the answer is brief and makes sense, your CV is probably working.
8. Get interview feedback outside the process
Many jobseekers waste real job interviews as practice sessions. Interviews are hard enough to get; don’t waste them by making basic errors. Find someone who has interviewing experience who will give you honest feedback on first impressions, how you link your experience to the job on offer and how well you handle tricky questions. Practice short, upbeat answers to tricky questions about gaps in your CV or why you’re job seeking right now. Don’t ignore vital job-related topics or the dull but obvious questions, such as ‘tell us about your strengths and weaknesses’.
9. List and research target organisations