1. Lack of Focus
You want to "stay open to possibilities" and are hoping employers will see where you fit into their organization. Your resume has a vague objective and your background is presented in cookie-cutter fashion. You insist you’ll be an asset to anyone who hires you, so you don’t focus on a specific employment target. To employers, you look like a ‘job shopper’ and your search goes on for months.
The Solution: Stop making excuses and find the focus you need to succeed by completing a thorough self-assessment process. You’ll get the most accurate results by working with a career coach or by attending workshops taught by career development professionals. However, many books are available on the subject, and numerous websites offer self-assessment tools. One of the best – ‘Elevations’ – can be found at my website: ElevateYourCareer.com. For an overview of the many resources to choose from, go online to RileyGuide.com/assess.html.
With a better understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, preferences and goals, you’ll be ready to research which jobs match your natural abilities. Then, target your resume and your interview answers, so that the employer can tell that you have done your homework on the organization and, if possible, the position.
2. Job Searching Without a Plan
You wake up every morning and wonder – what am I going to do today to land that great job? It’s overwhelming. You might look at some Internet job sites, go to a local job fair, or call your best friend who always listens to you no matter what. Let’s face it, you don’t have a plan and your job search is going nowhere.
The Solution: Once you have overcome mistake number one (lack of focus), you can tackle number two (lack of a plan). After pinpointing a target industry and job function, you can more easily locate the people you need to meet and communicate with. You should identify at least 50 companies in your geographic area that could hire you if they had an opening. Then decide how you are going to let those companies know you are available.
One approach is to send a customized cover letter and resume, and follow up with a phone call a week later. Explain your interest in their company and ask for a meeting. Meanwhile, attend professional association meetings and events that will get you in touch with the people you need to meet. Use multiple avenues to reach potential employers. Do not rely on any single method. Set goals for the number of hours you will spend each day on your search and the number of contacts you will make each week. Soon you will build momentum, and quality offers will follow.
3. Writing Your Resume First
Well, here we go again . . . it all goes back to mistake number one. You can’t write your resume until you know what you want to do.
You could hire a resume service, but be careful you don’t end up with some flashy document that looks professionally manufactured. Resume software is pretty inexpensive and can get you started, but the result may be cookie-cutter without some creative input of your own. Recruiters will be most impressed with a well thought-out resume that reflects your own personality and talents.
The Solution: Review your self-assessment and then research potential employment targets. Once you know what you want, you can look at your previous accomplishments and match them with the requirements of your prospective employer. Then write a resume that will get employers to call you first.
If you feel like you need some help with your resume, take a workshop or read a book. Then, you might want to hire someone to review your draft and make improvements, as a finishing touch. This saves you money and ensures that your resume reflects who you really are.
4. Making Contact Before Doing Research
If you are like a lot of jobseekers, you pulled out your cell phone or Rolodex as soon as you ‘started’ your job hunt. You dialed those numbers and asked for jobs. You hit up the few big decision-makers you knew, hoping they would hook you up with a great opening. Basically, you sounded needy and, yes, unfocused. You ‘burned’ your network.
The Solution: Generally you want to do all your reading and Internet research first. Learn about the industry trends and find job descriptions that match your goals and skills. Learn the key words and cultural elements of your target market. Prepare a 30-second statement that explains what you want to do and why you are qualified.
Your first calls should be to the less influential people on your list. Practice on them. Ask them who else you should be talking to. Work your way up to the best contacts you have. Be very prepared before you talk to the powerful folks on your list. If you already contacted companies before researching, reconnect, starting as I mentioned before, with the bottom of your contact list. Explain that your focus has been refined and you’d like to update them on your progress. This will help expand your network and get you back into the game with a fresh start.
5. Jumping at the First Job That Comes Along
The unemployment rate is hovering around 5-6% depending on your age, ethnicity, gender and where you live. So, while it is tough to find a really good job, there are jobs to be found. If you are a worrier, you might just take the first thing that comes along. Maybe you accept more travel than you really want or a lower salary. Before you know it, another five years has gone by and all you’ve got to show for it is more gray hair.
The Solution: Let’s face it, being unemployed is scary and can cause you to pull the trigger too fast. If you need money right away, consider temporary employment or contract work in your field, but don’t under-employ yourself. If your job search is becoming prolonged, hire a qualified professional to help you. Every month that you go without a salary, you are losing a lot more than it would cost to hire a good coach.
6. Not Following Up
You have to take the initiative, even in the face of possible rejection. And, if you are human, that sounds about as fun as a root canal. But let me assure you that lack of follow-up is at the heart of most stalled job hunts.
The Solution: Realize that every letter, every meeting and every interview will require timely, thoughtful follow-up. However, standard letters, done quickly, may be worse than no follow-up at all.
Take the time to think about ways to bring up your positive attributes. Show your good manners and excellent communication skills. Ask for another meeting, if it seems appropriate. Keep the door open and find ways to be helpful to everyone in your network. Showing gratitude goes a long way.
7. Taking a Break
I can hear it now – you are sick of your job search. All you want is a lounge chair on a beach in Mexico. And, lo and behold, your best buddy is going next week and he asks you to join him. Well, you’ve been really busting your butt on this search, so you figure you deserve a break. You head off for a week and plan to pick up where you left off when you return.
So what’s the big deal, you ask? It’s called momentum. A good job search is strategic and builds on itself. It’s much like running a marathon. While you get more and more tired, the option of stopping and then starting again midstream is insane. When you walk away from your search, you miss events and do not follow up in a timely manner. You miss a week of job postings and, quite possibly, that one really important phone call.
The Solution: If you are working full-time while conducting a search, plan to spend about ten hours each week on your job hunt. If you are unemployed, you should spend at least thirty hours a week on your search. There are no breaks! If an emergency comes up, realize that you will lose a lot of ground if you are busy doing something else.
8. Being Disorganized
Job searching is messy. It involves lots of paperwork and important detailed information. The person who gets the best job will be the one who answered the phone promptly, did not get lost on the way to the interview, and spelled the hiring manager’s name right. It truly is all in the details. Your job search will go on and on if you don’t get organized.
The Solution: Set up a simple contact management system. Record a professional phone message and decide where in your house or office you will be most productive. Organize that space and keep notes of each call you make, each person you talk to and who they referred you to. Even if you feel organizational skills are not your strength, try your best to keep your records neat and in order.
9. Becoming Isolated
It is easier to hide in your apartment than it is to face strangers at the local chamber of commerce meetings. Even if you are a social butterfly, the inevitable cold calls that go along with a job search can be intimidating. So you spend a lot of time in front of the computer. You email rather than call. And soon you find yourself lacking energy and feeling sad. You begin to regret your decision to launch this career transition. You are getting depressed. It’s very common and normal, but it can be avoided.
Avoid isolation in both the exploration and job-search phases of your career transition. Find a reason to meet with someone every day. Take up a volunteer project to stay involved in your community for five or ten hours a week. Put together a job-hunting group and have them meet in your living room. Do whatever it takes to keep connecting. Depression, as you might imagine, really slows down your search, so prevention is the best medicine!
10. Listening to the Wrong People
There are lots of negative people in the world, and sometimes they are members of your own family. If you listen to people who are fearful or lacking self-confidence, they will lay all their garbage on you. They say things like, "be satisfied with what you’ve got." "The grass is never greener on the other side." And, "there really are no good jobs anymore these days." Yikes, with that kind of input, you’ll never get the great job you deserve.
The Solution: Hang out with cheerleaders… no, I don’t mean the ones at football games. Stay in touch with people who think highly of you. Seek out role models, people you admire. Read inspirational books and let people know you need their support.
You have your focus now and can move full force. You have talents that deserve to be utilized and you want to live up to your potential. There is no reason why you cannot have the job you’ve always dreamed of. Avoid the common mistakes that most jobseekers make, and you’ll be well on your way to getting it.