Author Jenny Foss for The Muse
You’ve been on the job hunt for weeks.
You’re applying immediately to every job you come across that’s remotely related to your field. You’re getting your resume in the hands of anyone you meet. You’re following up with hiring managers like your life depends on it.
And still? Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Well, I’m going to tell you a little secret.
It might be you that’s the problem.
I know—before you get all ready to tussle with me, let me assure you that I realize that most people are smart and motivated and have all the best intentions when it comes to landing that next big thing. The problem is that most of us don’t have much training on how to not suck at the job search. Which means—we’re bound to make some gaffes along the way.
So let’s change that. ASAP.
Rule #1: If you’re using any of these (very-common) job search tactics, you must change course immediately.
1. Spending 100% of Your Search Time Submitting Online Applications
If trolling the job boards is your primary search tactic, you’re looking at a long road ahead. Realize that, for every job you pursue, at least one or two people are going to find an “in” at that company. And they’re going to use that “in” to get a direct introduction. Would you rather be the one with the “in,” or one of the other 20, 80, or 400 contenders coming in via the automated “clump” of applicants?
Instead: Even if you apply for the job online, the moment you hit “send,” head over to LinkedIn and see if you have a first- or second-degree connection at that company. Reach out, stat. Your goal is to be the one who gets the direct introduction.
2. Applying for Jobs (Blindly) When You’re Not an Obvious On-Paper Match
Nobody’s sitting around deducing what you might be good at or why you might make sense for any particular job. Read: When you apply online, if your resume and cover letter don’t speak to the specific needs and deliverables of the job—and spell out exactly how you are going to meet them—no applicant tracking system is going to even find it.
Instead: If you’re not an obvious match (on paper) for a job, you either need to figure out a way to make yourself one (i.e., gaining new skills, taking on volunteer opportunities or freelance work to boost your resume), or find an opportunity to explain your rationale for applying directly to a hiring manager (i.e., show how your previous work experience in your current field would translate seamlessly to this new job).
3. Expecting “I’m a Fast Learner” Will Clinch Anything for You
Unless you’re applying for a job that is, by nature, entry level, you should pretty much assume that the decision makers are on the lookout for someone who can hit the ground running. Does this mean you’ll never land a job in a new industry? Not at all. But if you’re pressed in an interview on why they should take a chance on you, don’t think for a moment the hiring manager is looking for “Because I’m a fast learner.”
Instead: Think about how the aggregate of your skills and experiences (no matter how unrelated) may actually make you a great candidate for that role. If you’re clear on why you’d be perfect for the job, it’ll be a heck of a lot easier for the decision makers to feel confident about hiring you, even if you’re a bit green.
4. Foisting Your Resume on Strangers Before You’ve Spent 10 Seconds Building Some Rapport
Would you ever walk up to a stranger and propose marriage? Of course you wouldn’t. So why do you think it’s remotely OK to find someone who works at your dream company and—before you’ve even gotten to the “How about that crazy weather?” stage of small talk—shove your resume at him, with a plea to take it on over to the manager? That’s not networking, that’s ambushing.
Instead: If you meet a contact or find a great connection on LinkedIn, look for ways to build a relationship before you ask for a job. Think: “Hi Jill, You and are both members of the Dallas Market Researchers group here on LinkedIn. I notice that you’re an analyst with Fort Knox Inc. I’m a research analyst, too, and I’ve heard great things about your firm. May I ask you just two quick questions about your role?”
5. Calling the HR Person, Recruiter, or Hiring Manager with Ridiculous Frequency
Yes, I know. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Fortune favors the bold. Ask and ye shall receive. All sound mantras. But there is a very fine line between “confident, proactive professional” and “desperate dude who will not stop calling us.”
Instead: If you haven’t heard back about a position, follow up nicely by email after your original thank-you note: “Hi Mary, Just a quick note–you mentioned that you’d be firming up hiring plans this week. I’m very excited to help you bring the Canyon Product Line to market in 2015. No response needed, but please let me know if I can provide any additional information to aid you in your final decision.”
Job searching isn’t easy, nor can it be boiled down to a single, perfect formula. But if you eliminate the tactics that don’t work (or make you look flat-out foolish), and start replacing them with more effective alternatives?
You’ll probably start seeing progress. And progress gives you momentum. And momentum?
That’s what allows you to steamroll your way to greatness.