As a talent scout and a recruiter, I am often asked to offer tips to job seekers.
As a person who has struggled in a job search like anyone else, I have always believed the best advice is no advice.
Basically, what works for me may not work for you.
At the end of the day, you are going to do what you are going to do, which is exactly how it should be.
I'm going to share with you a personal story, and I do hope that you can pick out some ideas that work for you to make your job search successful and help you create a manageable and realistic plan.
Once upon a time, a poor unsuspecting grocery store clerk asked an exhausted woman, "Would you like to donate a dollar to childhood diabetes?”
She looked the cashier dead in the eye and said, “Diabetes has taken enough from us. It isn’t going to get one more dollar of mine.”
The woman's child had been diagnosed recently, and she was at her wit's end trying to manage it.
It has been five years since my daughter was diagnosed. She was ten at the time, and she had lived ten years (her entire life) as a regular kid.
I would love to tell you that we mastered this affliction and put it in check.
I'd like to say you that all the wishing, magical thinking, and (terrible) suggestions from those who meant well made her condition disappear.
That isn’t what happened
For five years, diabetes was a struggle between me vs. her, us vs. doctors, doctors vs. her school, and so on.
We endured frequent hospital stays. I had to wrestle sugary treats out of her grip. She had to accept a new lifestyle.
All this time, her blood sugars bounced between high and low.
One day, after yet another hospitalization, we found a new specialist. She was a young, new doctor.
She looked at my daughter and said something no one had ever said before:
“I want to do what works for you.”
Wow. Who knew that was possible? We could make this thing work for us?
She went on to ask my daughter (now a teenager) about her real lifestyle.
“I get it,” she said. “I’m going to guess you eat the way I did when I was 15. You skip breakfast, pick at your lunch, come home and eat nonstop in between all your activities until bed.”
My daughter nodded sheepishly.
“So let’s make it work for you. I don’t want to keep forcing you on some meal plan that you will never follow. It is only going to set you up for failure. Let’s do something that works for you.”
They worked to develop a realistic plan that reached for attainable results.
By adjusting it to her life, she is better able to accept it as a part of her life.
How does this relate to your job search?
I also want to do what works for you.
That means helping you create a realistic, manageable plan that works for you.
Let's start with five key factors in managing your job search:
Decide on 3-5 “must-haves” and 3-5 “refuse-to-haves.”
If you’ve just been fired or are miserable at work, congratulations! You now have to do something.
The quicker you get to work, the better.
- Keep your options open.
- Spend time daily looking for the next step.
- Don’t just take any job.
It’s difficult to commit to your needs when your savings start to dwindle but staying in a position because you have to stay isn’t good for anyone.
As you continue your job search, adopt these practices:
- Manifest self-discipline.
- Set goals.
- Be accountable.
- Have an outcome in mind.
Don’t dismiss opportunities that don’t match your mental picture. Instead, consider every opportunity that presents itself.
If it isn’t what you want, let them know you’re considering all the possibilities. That way, you have the option to revisit.
If you’ve been unemployed for a while, focus on putting something on your resume.
Be judicious, though.
If you were laid off from your executive position and had to take a cleaning job, be proud.
If you took a sabbatical to try raising sheep, that’s wonderful.
But, keep those jobs off your resume.
People are naturally skeptical and critical.
(Arguing that sheep-shearing proves your diversity of skills isn’t going to help.)
By the same token, if you are applying for a cleaning job or herding sheep, don’t add an executive position.
The reader will assume you don’t want the job but have to take it.
In short, keep your positions aligned with your desired career.
If you have blank space, fill it with independent consulting.
The busier you make yourself, the more time you’ll make for these activities. Most importantly, your job search will become manageable.
2) Finding the middle ground
Decide on the top five things you want from a career.
- Take an hour every week (or every day) to think about who you are and what you want.
- Don't pigeon-hole yourself or measure your activities by unrealistic standards.
- You aren't going to become Shakespeare overnight.
- You are going to need a "fun time" to unwind every day.
Telling my daughter she had to follow a strict schedule was never going to work for her, just like committing all your time to a job search isn't going to work for you.
3) Knowing your limits
The main mistake that most “self-help” enthusiasts make is filling your head with magical thinking.
They’ll tell you to repeat daily, “I am a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.”
They will tell you to focus on this one goal.
How realistic is this when you spend eight hours a day in a different field?
We all have limits. We need to be realistic about what can happen right now.
- Start earning credentials.
- Write an article.
- Start a blog.
Focus on the activities first, and the success will come.
Be sure your activities are realistic, accomplishable, and broken down into days, weeks, and months.
Based on those activities, create realistically attainable goals.
Likewise, break them down into years, months, and weeks (no less).
My daughter and I don't shoot for low blood sugar; we shoot for counting all carbs and writing down our numbers daily.
Focus on the activities, and the results follow.
Goals and activities will get you nowhere if they are just magical numbers.
- Write them down.
- Post them where you can see them in your home and office.
- Do what works for you.
- Reward yourself based on activities.
If you commit to contacting five people this week at places you want to work and you actually do it, reward yourself with an extra hour of leisure time or a treat from your favorite coffee shop.
Sleep in a couple of hours extra this Sunday.
Be realistic. Don’t reward yourself with anything you will regret (such as something out of your budget).
Know your limits; don't commit to anything you can't reasonably do each day.
We don't reward a good diet with cake.
But we do know we still need a piece of cake now and then.
(Read more on How To Apply For Entry-Level Jobs.)
Don’t chain yourself to one idea or one plan.
Everyone thinks that you work hard and eventually you “make it.”
The truth is that you will work hard, and you will make it, then fail, then start again, make it again, and fail again over and over.
You must do this until you build up enough credentials and have enough going to keep you floating when you aren’t “making it.”
The big break isn’t a guarantee. That's why you must reward your activities.
When the recruiter calls, and it isn’t the ideal salary or title, be flexible.
- Think about those 3-5 “must-haves” and those 3-5 “refuse-to-deal-withs.”
- Does it have a few of the “must-haves” or “refuse-to-deal-withs?”
- Does it have the potential to get you the “must-haves” in a year or two?
If the client passes on you, there will be another opportunity.
Don’t call the recruiter or the client, repeatedly arguing the outcome.
This is your job search.
You can't rely on someone else to manage it.
When things don't turn out, try something different and keep moving forward.
I am from that world where they tell you that you are lucky to have any job. That isn’t a mentality to base any career around.
No one owns your path but you.
If you only take one thing from this, I want it to be this:
The best anyone can ask of you is that you be you.
Set goals you can achieve and when you reach them, reward yourself.
Be consistent, and your search will become manageable.
The results you seek will soon follow.