My gut feeling is that some readers won’t like this blog post. Not that it isn’t as good as any other, but because the advice I have for you today is easy to read and really hard to do.
After much deliberation and soul searching, I’ve concluded that there is one single thing that may be the most important thing in job search. This one thing may also be the most important thing in your career, your health, and much of the rest of your life. This one thing is something that I struggle with daily. The key to a successful job search – or maybe the secret of life – is discipline.
If you’ve read my previous posts you know about resumes, cover letters, target lists, first impressions, networking, elevator speeches, and hopefully more. Those things alone will probably not get you a job. To find that next job – and the one after that – you have to have the discipline to keep looking; the discipline that gets you out of bed, every day at the same time. The discipline that gets you showered, shaved, dressed, and ready to work, only to walk across the room to sit down at your PC and start your job search.
I read an article about a famous writer (it might have been Steven King from his book “On Writing” – which I highly recommend). This author talked about going to his writing desk every day for four hours and writing. He wrote even when he was not working on a book. He wrote even when the muse had left him and at the end of the day he deleted everything he wrote that day. He wrote every day because he had developed that discipline of writing and he knew that if he lost that discipline he might not get it back. He was afraid that if he waiting until he felt like writing, he might not never write another word.
Looking for a job needs to be a full time job. You need to dedicate as many hours each week to your job search as you plan on working when you find a job. You need to be disciplined, consistent, dedicated, hardworking, and loyal; all those personal characteristics that you tell an employer you possess, need to be applied to your job search.
Discipline is hard. Discipline is what gets you to the gym 3 times a week. Discipline is how you stop smoking. Discipline orders broccoli rather than a loaded baked potato. Discipline is telling those you love, that you love them. Discipline is with you every single day.
If your job search isn’t progressing like you’d like, take a hard look at your discipline. Are you really putting in the time and energy? If you are, great work, keep it up. If not, step up your game a bit and see how that works for you.
This is going well. You’ve cleared the phone screen, had an interview, and done okay on some testing. You’re feeling pretty good. Then the recruiter turns to you and says, “Can you give me some references?” Now what!?!
In a perfect world you’d reach into your portfolio (or pad, briefcase, what-have-you) and pull out a professional reference list. This would have the same look and feel as your resume and cover letter. On the list would be three to five names with their job titles, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. You’d hand that to the recruiter and say “here you go.”
It doesn’t always work like that, but that’s your goal. The hard question is, who are those people?
As you begin you job search you need to start lining up your references. You want to build a database of people, ideally 10 to 15. Find people who can talk about your work and work habits in a sincerely positive way. You need a few supervisors who can talk about you as an employee. You need a few coworkers who have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with you. You need a few subordinates (if you’ve had any) who can describe what kind of a boss you are. You could also use a few customers – either internal or external – people who you served in some capacity. An executive mentor would be nice to talk about how you are improving your skills. Finally you need some personal references – maybe a college professor, pastor, good friend, or someone you’ve volunteered with (or for).
You need to approach each of these people with the same request, “can you help me?” Tell them that you are looking for a job and that you’d like them to serve as a reference for you. Talk about the types of things they might say about you. Make sure to gather their personal contact information. Then build your list. Put everybody on that page, organize them by category – boss, peer, subordinate, etc. Then file that away (do not print that version).
You can then go about your search being prepared. When you schedule a face-to-face interview or get a request for references then you being the next phase. Examine both your list of references and the job you are applying for, and pick the references that can provide feedback that is most closely linked to what that company needs to know about you. Delete the others and print that reference list of three to five people. One last thing, before you hand that list to the recruiter, send an email to each person on the list telling them that you will be giving their name to XYZ Company. That way they can expect to be contacted by the company and be prepared to answer the phone or recognize an odd email address.
As with all facets of your job search the key is to be prepared. Solicit your references, get them from all facets of your professional experience, know what they are going to say, warn them before you use them, and present them to the hiring manager in a fashion that is professional and consistent with your other search documents. You can do that – now let’s get out and find that job!
In a future post I’ll talk about the other side of references – being one for someone else.
So, you’ve been out of work for some time; you have (you think) exhausted your network; you have applied for every job you can find; you regularly attend one or two job clubs; and nothing is working? I know it is an incredibly frustrating feeling. Maybe a solution is to try giving rather than taking…
An excellent way to spend some of your now available time is to give some of it away. I suggest you consider four categories of volunteer work:
Based on your profession – find ways, possibly through the local chapter of your professional association, to use your skill set to benefit a not-for-profit. Find a local social service agency where you can relate to their mission and ask if they would be interested in some free professional assistance (I can almost guarantee they will be). If you are an HR person volunteer to conduct an HR audit. If you are an IT person volunteer to install computers. If you are a marketing person volunteer to help them with social networking. You get the idea – give to them what you really want someone to pay you to do.
Based on your community – find a need in your community and see if they need some additional workers. Regardless of your professional training you can most likely pick up trash, serve at the reception desk at your local hospital, read to children at a Head Start, or help direct traffic for a local 5k run.
Based on your passions – find a need that with an agency that does what you love. If you love animals volunteer at an animal shelter. If you want to be outdoors work at a nature sanctuary. If you love art become a museum docent.
Based on your faith – find a need at your house of worship that fits you. You can teach Sunday school, lead a mission trip, coordinate a community garden, or paint the nursery.
The bottom line is that there are better places where you can spend your time other than on the couch watching soap operas or surfing the net hoping to stumble on a new job posting. Volunteering does wonderful things for you. Volunteering can help you keep your skills sharp, learn or practice a new skill, meet new networking contacts or maybe uncover new job opportunities. Just as importantly, volunteering can meet the needs of others and help your community be a better place. Volunteering keeps you keep busy and stay physically and mentally active. Finally, volunteering helps you feel good about yourself and provides energy to help you sustain your job search.
If you can’t find anyone to hire you yet, get up and find a way to give away what you have. Others will benefit, you’ll feel better and it just may help you find that next opportunity.
It doesn’t happen to every job seeker – but it happens more often that you think. You’re out there networking and interviewing and suddenly you have two opportunities coming up at the same time. What are you going to do?!?
Maybe you get an offer from a job that is okay, but you really are hoping for a job that would be great. Or maybe you just get that “okay” offer but you’re not sure you really want that job.
There are several conflicting decision points at play here.
1) A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
2) Be true to yourself.
3) How does the pay, benefits, duties and potential compare you your wants and needs?
4) If they liked you enough to offer you a job, so will someone else.
5) If I take the first one and the second one calls – can I quit the first one?
I can’t answer these questions for you – especially without knowing the situation. Here is what I do know. Don’t take a job you don’t want. Even if you’ve been unemployed for a while taking a job you know you’ll hate will not make you happy, nor will it advance your career. Plus it will take time away from your job search. But, I also understand the need to feed your family so when you reach that stage find a job that provides an income and gives you the opportunity to keep looking.
There is a great story about a man who was stranded on his roof during a flood and three times boats came by to pick him up. Each time he send them away saying that God would provide him relief from the flood. When he drowned and met God in heaven he asked God why he didn’t save him. God’s response was “who do you think sent the boats?” The moral here is that if you keep waiting for that perfect job it may not come along.
Do not feel you have to take the first offer you get. If that job is not going to provide the right mix of rewards then keep looking. If you accept a job, then you’ll have to use your own moral compass to decide how long you need to stay with that job before you quit. While your new employer might be disappointed or even angry if you resign after just a few weeks or months, they’ll be okay.
I don’t like games or attempts at manipulation. I don’t like it when a candidate – or an employee – says I need to pay them more because someone else has given them a better offer. I want people to be honest and direct. But … I don’t always get what I want either.
There are no easy answers here. Look inside yourself. Make sure you know both what you want and what you need. If you don’t think a job offer meets most of those things then walk away – there will be more. If you think this looks like good job take it – and throw yourself into the job. If it turns out you were wrong, start looking. I will tell you this – it’s easier to find a job when you have a job.
These are tough decisions to make, but if you have to make them then you are doing the right things and your search is progressing. Keep it up!