There are scores of websites with helpful tips for those seeking employment. I know – I spent the last eight months careening the Internet for advice (and a new job) after finishing a 20-year career as a public affairs officer in the Army. Rather than repeat existing good advice, I want to share some of my observations and lessons learned for those of you undergoing prolonged job searches:
Prepare yourself mentally for a long challenge. Don’t be discouraged if your search seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time. While there are a lot of factors that will impact your search, you should effectively plan on looking at least one month for every $20,000 of salary you are seeking.
Seek the counsel of mentors or senior professionals in PR and HR. Ask them to review your resume and if possible, help coach you through practice interviews. After 20 years of experience and two degrees in journalism, I was not too proud to ask my mentors to tweak my resume and work me over (hard!) in mock interviews. You shouldn’t be either. They will have constructive critiques that are beyond your vision.
- Be as professional in your job search as you will be in your job. While I was not working, I woke up early every morning, got dressed for “work” (business casual) and sat in my living room at my computer from 9am until well after 5pm every day, combing the market, working on my resume, targeted cover letters and interview preparation. Doing it right takes time. Remember, until you find a job, your full-time job is looking for a job.
- Be aware of your online presence and ensure there are no disconnects between who your resume says you are and what a potential employer sees about you on the Internet. (Believe me, they check.) Like most people I maintain a social media presence, but I keep it strictly professional. What someone sees on my LinkedIn or Twitter page is an accurate professional representation of who I am on my resume or in an interview.
- Be selective, realistic and keep an open mind about the positions you apply for. This is a science of quality over quantity. I have friends who sent out literally hundreds of resumes to every opening they could find, whether they were qualified or not, hoping the law of averages would yield in their favor. But it doesn’t work that way. I spent eight months carefully screening and applying to roughly 70 positions that I knew I was competitive for. I slaved over every detail, every cover letter instead of mass mailings. In the end, I interviewed a few dozen times, turned down seven offers (yes, turned down) and kept the one I felt most passionate and comfortable with. (There are some jobs that look good on paper but when you get down to the interview just don’t pan out to be what you wanted. There are times when it is best to walk away.)
- Remember who you are; be who you are and not who you think an interviewer wants you to be. At some point desperation may set in and you’ll be willing to say whatever an employer wants to hear to get that job. Don’t do it. You are who you are and there is no changing that. I know my personality quirks and I let them shine through for the interviewer to see. If they’re okay with it, great; if they’re not, then we’ve saved each other some time. If you are hired on the basis of being someone or something you’re not, it will eventually come to the surface and things will become unpleasant for all involved.
- Finally, don’t allow yourself to get professionally stale while you’re searching. Keep up with current reading, trends and events in the industry. Maintain your professional memberships, attend webinars and workshops. Self-improvement displays initiative and dedication. Don’t put yourself in the position of answering the interview question, “What have you been doing since you graduated/left your old position?,” without being able to demonstrate a consistent commitment to the profession. Volunteer to teach, work at a non-profit or on a political campaign. It may not be your calling, but it will keep you fresh and show a potential employer you’re a self-starter and not just letting the grass grow under your feet.
It can be a struggle finding work in today’s economy. After eight months, I got lucky. And while some say “better lucky than good,” the lessons I mentioned above helped me make my own luck along the way. Hope they help you as well. -PS