I am frequently asked by former colleagues, friends, and acquaintances to share my thoughts on job-hunting and career transitions. There are a few themes and pieces of advice that I find myself returning to over and over again. None of my tips or insights are earth-shattering, but sometimes hearing them a slightly different way or when you need them, makes all the difference- so here are my most tried and true tips- from the more philosophical to the practical.
Starting Your Search
First off- don’t settle for the status quo if you are unhappy with it. I’m not suggesting you quit your job tomorrow or even in six months. Everyone is different and careful evaluation may lead you to make changes in your attitude, your patterns, or your current work environment that make a positive difference. What frustrates me is that I often hear a degree of fatalism about needing to just accept being unhappy and that’s plain wrong. You CAN change and if you are unhappy, you need to change something. It will be hard, take you out of your comfort zone, and will certainly disrupt the status quo- but the result will be well worth the effort.
Focus your search on jobs you actually want. This may seem self-evident but I see many folks wasting their energy spreading their search too wide. This grows increasingly important as you get older. Job hunting midway or later in your career is hard because you are now in a more competitive category. It’s a waste of time to invest energy in roles you aren’t interested in. A good way to know whether you are actually interested in a role is to see whether you can write a cover letter from scratch for that specific role. If you can’t muster the energy or enthusiasm to write a compelling summary of why you want that specific role- it’s a pretty good sign that you should evaluate whether the job really appeals to you.
I know, you’ve heard it before (and ignored it) but it’s true. Consistent networking and keeping relationships strong is important because it keeps you aware of what’s going on within your professional circle and it’s a great way to get intel on companies and roles you might be interested in.
My favorite piece of advice relative to networking is this- reach out to people that don’t have a role posted. People love to talk about themselves (or at least about their jobs) and it takes all the pressure out of a conversation when you are just learning about a person’s role or company. They will remember your sincere interest when a role does come up. You’ll feel at ease and have a great conversation because you aren’t constantly wondering whether you are saying just the right thing.
Interviewing- Prepare, Practice, Project
My biggest beef when interviewing candidates is when they haven’t prepared for the interview. It is imperative for you to demonstrate that you care enough about the role to have learned about it- about the company, the division, recent news stories, earnings, trends in the industry- whatever you can get your hands on. This demonstration can take many forms, but the bottom line is if you don’t care enough to prepare for the interview, save both yourself and the hiring manager a lot of time by not doing it.
Practice may not make perfect, but it will make a huge difference in your performance during an interview. And I promise you, the best candidates are practicing- a lot. If you want to be competitive, find ways to practice your answers to common interview questions. There are a million good resources for practice questions- but an especially good place to look is on sites for MBA students or graduates. MBA programs drill their students in good interviewing- so whatever the role you are going for, be ready to answer some of the basics like, Why are you looking for a new job?, What’s your greatest strength/weakness?, What would your current manager say about you?
Speaking of the question, “Why are you looking for a new job?”- there is an unwritten golden rule here that I violated badly, twice. For two really senior, fabulous roles. Of course, I didn’t get them and I was absolutely crushed. Don’t. Be. Me.
So, what’s this golden rule? Don’t say you are unhappy in your current job. I mean- duh! That’s why you are looking. That’s why everyone looks. The person interviewing you knows that. You know it. What this question is really about, is how you handle this question. Are you bringing your unhappiness and dissatisfaction with you? Are you making it the interviewer’s problem? Or, are you mature enough to give a compelling, persuasive answer that focuses on the future? When I made this mistake (yes- really, twice) I wrongly thought I was building rapport. Being vulnerable and building trust. Nope. Nope. Nope. That will NOT be the result. Save it for drinks when you are three months in. This can be one of the most difficult questions to answer, so follow the other two pieces of advice- prepare your answer and practice it.
Contrary to popular belief, the point of your resume is not to demonstrate how unique you are. Its purpose is to demonstrate how well-qualified and desirable you are. It is not about you showcasing how smart you are with clever formatting or obscure fonts. Remember, recruiters and hiring managers read hundreds, if not thousands of resumes over the course of a year. Don’t make them work harder to find key information. Don’t bury the length of employment or put your employer’s name on the right when it’s usually on the left. In short, don’t give them a reason to look away.
Resumes should be like the model home at a building site- clean, tidy, and staged in a way that shows off all the best features of the floor plan, craftsmanship, and architecture. It’s not the right time to highlight your quirks or distract from the main message- which for a model home is “Imagine yourself living here!” and in resume speak is, “Imagine yourself hiring me!” Every hiring manager and recruiter wants to be known for making smart hires- you need to demonstrate how hiring YOU adds to their reputation.
Even Gandalf doesn’t want you thinking about his age. He wants you thinking, “Wow! Imagine me hiring the White Wizard, he’s worked with Frodo!”
A word about your age- it matters. Hey, I wish it didn’t, but it does. It’s not because people are consciously biased (though some are) but because age is one of those things that you don’t want people thinking about- whether you are young or old. You want people thinking about your experience and competence.
Thinking about ages usually goes one of two ways: “Oh my god, he was born the year I graduated from high school!” or “Wow, based when she graduated from college, she’s old enough to be my mom!” So, to avoid prompting these mental gymnastics, leave the year you graduated off your education section. I also recommend that if you have job experience that extends back into the 90’s, consider omitting it. Chances are, what you did 15+ years ago is going to be so heavily discounted in the recruiter’s mental calculus, as to be negligible. Just keep thinking, “Does this support my main message?”
Along the same lines- it’s important to demonstrate that you are current. Twitter, Facebook, Google- they aren’t going anywhere. Don’t highlight your lack of adaptability by ignoring your virtual persona. Include the link to your LinkedIn profile and possibly your Twitter handle. You will be Googled. Lock down that Facebook profile and think about what your online presence looks like. Do you have a blog? Either list it or be comfortable with them finding and reading it.
Think of your social media presence as the backyard to that model home you just walked the hiring manager through with your resume. Don’t let your yard be a garbage dump that makes the buyers think, “Great house, bad neighborhood.” Speaking of neighborhoods- you don’t need your home address on your resume any longer, list your city and state.
Finally- NEVER LIE. There is a huge difference between showing yourself off to your best advantage (much like you do when first dating) and lying. Once you tell an un-truth or deliberately mislead, whether by omission or or more direct means, you’re done. And you’ll never, ever get another chance with that person or company- so don’t even get close to the line.
Here’s the other thing I have observed, it often feels darkest right before the dawn. You have been searching, networking, obsessively watching your inbox and sweating your LinkedIn profile, and it feels fruitless. That’s when the right role hits. Job-hunting is no picnic- it’s more like a roller coaster with way more “downs” than “ups” until you get to the end of the ride. But persevere , keep your attitude positive, and always act with integrity and sincerity- it will pay off with the right role.
As you have seen, I learned some of these lessons through painful experience and others I have learned as a hiring manager. I also know that I have much, much more to learn. So, what commons pitfalls or mistakes have you made or seen in the course of your career?
Thanks so much for reading, sharing, and commenting!
(Opinions and advice in this post and across my blog are my own and do not represent the view of any organization I have, do, or will work for.)