If you are a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, then you understand the reference to the phrase “One ring to rule them all” and its significance as a central plot element. The characters undertake a long and arduous journey to find and possess the ring, control its magical powers, for good or evil, depending on your perspective. Get your hands on the ring, and you can bend and shape the world to your vision.
It sounds a little like the search for your next job. A long and challenging journey? Find the secrets to landing the next job? A perfect keyword optimized and ATS ready resume? A powerful network referral? The ideal answer to the most common interview questions? Check all those boxes. If only you could take the journey and possess the secrets, then certainly you would secure that next job. And quickly too.
You might be sensing a little bit of sarcasm in my writing. I am not a fan of job search self-help articles that leverage the word “secret” in the title. A few titles (examples altered to protect the innocent):
The Top Five Secrets for Job Search Victory
Three Secrets to a Winning Resume
Nail Your Cover Letter with this One Secret
Ten Secrets to Build Your Network
Eight Secrets to Crush the Final Interview
You get my point. There are a lot of job search “secrets” available on the internet and social media. Who doesn’t want to learn a secret? It’s a powerful marketing technique. A secret should be hard to acquire. However, it’s apparently publicly available, and just a click away. Ok. I will try this approach. I have the biggest job secret of all for you. Even more powerful than the ring that traveled with Frodo across three very long movies. The secret? There are no magical job search secrets. The only thing that matters is a plan, a process, and a lot of hard work.
I sound like one of those aging boomers advocating that the secret to life is hard work. Guilty as charged. I believe in hustling and working hard and smart to achieve your goals. But here’s the catch. I don’t believe it was harder to find a job in the old days (i.e., walking 2 miles to the interview uphill both ways). The job search process was difficult when I was young, and it is tough now as well. Perhaps even more difficult when you factor in the new job search technology and an exponential increase in the competitive job market.
What I dislike are the articles from career and job search “experts” that tell you all you need is to make these secret changes to your resume, your networking, your interview answers, to name a few topics. Implement these secrets, and your next job offer will magically appear. If it were as simple as flipping the light switch, we would all do it, and the job search would be a piece of cake. But we don’t, and it’s not. Falling into the trap of believing you only need to learn a few secrets to the job search process to land that next job is self-defeating. Placing your bet on job search secrets can lead to frustration, radio silence from applications, stagnant networking, and not enough interviews.
A successful job search takes time, hard work, and covers four distinct phases. There are tips, tricks, and techniques that can accelerate your progress through each stage, but nothing is secret. It’s all out there for you on the internet, in books and videos, from peers and mentors, and even from career coaches. But you need to commit to the work, invest the time and take the job search journey across all four critical phases of the job search process.
Phase 1: Job Search Action Plan Development
The first phase of your job search plan must begin with preparation and research. Preparation means activities such as determining how many hours per week you will dedicate to the search process, where you will get the work done, and where you invest your time each day. Research means looking both inward and outward. Complete a self-assessment of your skills, experience, and value proposition. Research the industries, organizations, and positions you will target in your search. Document your job search plan so you can measure your results weekly. More of my thoughts on action plan development for your job search here.
Phase 2: Personal Branding
If you were in sales, would you head out the door to start selling your product before you had a brochure, a presentation, a website, or an understanding of your value proposition? I hope not because you would not get very far. The same goes for your job search. Before you start applying for jobs, networking, and interviewing, get your personal branding assets in place. That includes, at minimum, an elevator pitch, an ATS compliant resume, a baseline cover letter, and a professional LinkedIn profile. Each of these four assets should be aligned to clearly articulate your value proposition. Who are you and why should I care about you? My specific thoughts on one (often forgotten) branding asset, the cover letter, here.
Phase 3: Personal Networking
Do I have to say it? Yes. Networking is how you will, in all probability, find your next job. Maybe you are lucky at the blackjack table, in the lottery, and using the online job boards. But most of us “donate” our money to the casino and need networking and referrals to secure a job. Approach networking like a sales rep manages a sales territory. Professional, targeted, and with a focus on the prospect. Always remember that networking works best when viewed as a two-way street. Give as much as you get. A quick video covering my view on networking metrics for your job search here.
Phase 4: Personal Selling
If you buy into my philosophy that your job search is like a sales cycle where you are selling your value proposition, then interviewing for a job is the process of personal selling. Interviews today come in all shapes and sizes. Phone interviews, video interviews, face to face interviews, panel interviews, and even AI-assisted virtual interviews. In the interview process, fortune favors the prepared candidate. If you want to win the interview, research your buyer, and refine your pitch, your stories, and your answers to align with the target position. And practice like you have a big commission check riding on the outcome because you do. More on my views on preparing for interviews here.
I could keep talking (or writing) about job search secrets, but I have a book to read. Apparently, I was supposed to read The Hobbit before reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In case you are interested, the suggested reading order is here. No worries. It’s cold and snowy here in Upstate NY this weekend, so I have time.
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Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.