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Searching for the Magic Bullet in Job Hunting

Customize Your Approach and Give Yourself a Break

By Bob Park

Have you heard about the magic bullet for effective job hunting?  No?  Well that’s not surprising since there isn’t one – at least not a single magic bullet that works for everybody.

There are, however, best practices that will serve you well in your job search, as well as pitfalls that can trip you up. Some of them are obvious, but the key is to understand the tools that will help you be effective and the dangers that can set you back.

What I’ve learned after many years of coaching and placing clients is that every candidate is different, and the specific style and approach that is magic for one, may fall flat for another.

That’s what led me to the concept of job search customization, an idea that has become the cornerstone of my philosophy.  I believe the most important thing a job seeker can do is to play to his or her own strengths.  The sooner they accept this, the faster they can get their job search on the right track – and the more likely they are to land that dream job.

Here are five key elements that I believe are critical to any effective job search:

  1. Know thyself.

Since conducting an effective job search requires a customized approach that plays to your strengths, your strategy must start with you.  What’s your personality?  What has been successful for you – not just with job hunting, but with life in general – and what has led you to fall short?

Take the interview process, for example.  There are dozens of frameworks out there designed to help people ace the interview (one that I like and use with many clients is the CAR, or Context, Action, Result method).  But while an introverted candidate may do well with this structured, rules-based approach, a more gregarious person might use the same method and come across as inauthentic.  If you know you sound more convincing when you’re talking candidly, you might want to ignore specific frameworks and simply speak from the heart.

  1. The resume isn’t the magic bullet.

When I meet with new clients, often the first thing they ask me to do is review their resumes.  Because the resume is something candidates can control, they tend to place a lot of importance on it.  For the most part, however, your resume isn’t the single thing that will get you the job or even the interview. If you’re conducting the job search the correct way – putting more emphasis on networking vs. simply monitoring the open positions out there, your resume shouldn’t actually be your “way into” a company in the first place.

Also keep in mind that a “good” resume is very much in the eye of the beholder.  The same resume can look great to one potential employer and terrible to another.  That’s not to say your resume doesn’t matter, but rather that you shouldn’t spend 90% of your time on it and then expect to see results.  A resume should be free of mistakes, aesthetically pleasing and make your strengths pop – beyond that, your time is better spent with networking, follow up, job research and writing killer cover letters.

  1. Don’t fear being a square peg.

One of the worst things a job seeker can do is present themselves as something they’re not.  I see this a lot with people who have broad backgrounds – they think they need to check all the boxes on a potential employer’s list, so they create a profile that’s somewhat disingenuous because they think it’s what the employer wants to hear.  But the truth is, employers can usually see right through this.  In fact, they’re more likely to hire the person who doesn’t exactly fit the job description but who brings sincerity, passion and professionalism.

  1. Failure is your friend.

An effective job search is all about rejection.  This is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of people – smart, talented people who aren’t used to hearing the word “no.”  It’s important to accept the reality that it usually takes quite a few “no’s” to get to that one “yes,” so it’s better to take that rejection and use it constructively rather than let it get you down.  Keep in mind the goal is to know yourself well enough to customize your approach.  And the fastest way to learn what works specifically for you is to try some things, embrace the failure, and then course-correct.

Of course, you can only course-correct if you know what you’re doing wrong.  If you’re given the courtesy of a rejection email or phone call, I highly recommend asking for feedback at that time to understand why, specifically, you weren’t selected for the position.  Sometimes they’ll share, sometimes they won’t – but if you don’t ask, you’re guaranteed to be left in the dark.  It’s also key to have one or more trusted mentors in your life.  It takes time to cultivate these relationships, but during a job search they can help you identify areas to improve and work through solutions in advance of the next opportunity.

  1. Call it quits.

The best advice I can give anyone about their job search is to give it an end-date and stick to it – even if they haven’t found a job by that time.  Understandably, this is also the piece of advice that elicits the most raised eyebrows.

It may sound counterintuitive to halt your search before you’ve found a position, but this approach is helpful for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, a job search with no end in sight is a recipe for burnout.  But more importantly, you need an opportunity to evaluate your progress and fix the things that aren’t working.  I always recommend people limit their job search to four or six weeks, take a couple of weeks to regroup, then dive back in.  Essentially, a job search should be a series of these four- to six-week campaigns – with a focus on honing your skills more and more each time.

If you’re on the hunt for a job, don’t get caught up looking for the magic bullet. Just roll up your sleeves, prepare to be patient, course-correct so you don’t get lost in the weeds, and use your strengths to see you through.