In my youth, I collected every Led Zeppelin album as soon as they hit the record store. I was even fortunate enough to see them live in concert (Cincinnati 1977). Now, whenever fall arrives, and the leaves begin to turn colors here in Upstate NY, I hear the words of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in my head. Led Zeppelin speaks directly to me as I reflect on the end of summer and listen to the music and lyrics of Ramble On:
“Leaves are falling all around. It's time I was on my way. Thanks to you I'm much obliged for such a pleasant stay. But now it's time for me to go. The autumn moon lights my way. For now I smell the rain. And with it pain. And it's headed my way.”
How did you spend your summer? Did you focus on your job search? Or did you take some time off to recharge your batteries and plan for the end of 2020? I chose to scale back my daily LinkedIn activity for a few months. Instead, I focused my time and effort on my clients and the seemingly never-ending draft of my upcoming job search guidebook. And yes, one of those clients was me. Lots of sunshine, hikes with my wife and my dog, and even some safe, socially distanced family visits.
I spoke at length with many job seekers over the past several summer months. Across each discussion, I observed four common themes that hold lessons for us as the job search heads towards the colder winter months ahead. If we note these observations and course correct in our job search process, it is possible to avoid the “pain that is headed our way.” Led Zeppelin does not always have to be right.
No Compelling Career or Brand Story
I begin every job search consultation with the same question: Tell me about yourself. 95% of the time, the answers are virtually identical. There is a pause, and then the client launches into a verbal recitation of both resume and career. The lesson is clear. The client has not defined his brand and does not have a handle on his value proposition. He cannot efficiently and effectively tell me who he is and why I should care about him. The client is missing an elevator pitch.
For your job search, your elevator pitch is the essence of who you are and the unique value that you can bring to an organization and a specific job. The elevator pitch must be the first step in building your brand and starting the job search process. Your elevator pitch is the genetic code of your job search. No DNA. No life. No elevator pitch. No successful job search.
Your elevator pitch enables you to sell yourself. It becomes the professional summary on your resume and your LinkedIn profile. It is the middle paragraph on every cover letter that you write. It is the story you tell your network contacts. And in every interview, it is the answer to the standard question: “Tell me about yourself.” A 60 second, 150-word answer delivered as a story but in a conversational manner.
No GPS Coordinates for Job Search
I ask my clients if they have identified one or two job titles on which they are focusing the search process. Typically, I hear that they have a range of positions for which they believe they are qualified. But the list of job titles is long and not always fined tuned to the language of today’s job market. If you do not have a specific target for your search, how can you customize your messaging and value proposition to rise above the competition? Without a particular position target, you increase the probability of meandering through your job search every day in ad hoc fashion. No structure and no focus translates to lost days, limited results, and increased frustration.
If I want to get in my car and drive from New York to the warm beaches of Los Angeles, I can hop in the car and start following the sun. I know that it sets in the west. I will get there eventually, but it will take a long time, and I will make many wrong turns along the way. Or I could start by programming my GPS with a specific destination. I will be dipping my toes in the Pacific Ocean in no time at all. Your target job titles (1-2 max) are the GPS coordinate for your job search.
Ad Hoc vs. Targeted Search Process
When I ask my clients if they have developed a list of target companies and organizations, I get a mixed bag of results. Some share with me that they have a list of about five companies they have identified. Others (the majority) say that they do not have a list and instead focus on job postings regardless of the company behind the posting.
A job search without a list of target organizations is another red flag indicator of an ad hoc process. I recommend a micro-targeted approach for your job search activities. You need to develop a focused list of between 30 to 50 organizations. Beyond 50 targets, it is virtually impossible to complete the required level of quality research and customization necessary to execute a successful job search.
To develop the list of target organizations, you first need to define your organizational filters. Imagine that you had a strainer into which you will pour hundreds of potential companies. What are your most critical organizational characteristics that will filter out all but the most attractive organizations for your job search? For example: Company Size (Startup, SMB, Enterprise), Industry, Growth Rate (Employees and Sales), Financial Viability (Cash Flow from Operations), Organizational Culture, Company Ratings (Glassdoor), and Geographic Preference (what part of the country, city or rural, remote or travel-based, etc.). The list of filters is unique to you, like a fingerprint. What is important is that you take the time to reflect and develop your specific list of filters.
Sub Optimal Search Time Investment
Finally, when I ask the client how they allocate the time in their job search process between cruising the job boards and networking, the answers are remarkably consistent. Usually, I hear something in the range of 70-80% online job boards and 20-30% networking. If those measurements were a cake recipe, that cake is never getting out of the oven.
The only asset you possess to invest in your job search is your time and effort. You need to invest that asset where you will produce the greatest return on investment. Networking and referral strategies have the highest probability of producing job opportunities, interviews, and job offers. Online job boards and applying in the blind have the lowest likelihood of a successful outcome.
Both strategies, networking and online job boards, have a place in your job search process. But it would help if you flipped the script on where you allocate your time. Develop a plan where networking is in the 70%+ range, and the online job boards and cold applications fall below 30% of your available time investment.
These are just four of many observations from today’s job search. Stay tuned for more insights as we head deeper into the fall season. Just because the leaves and the temperatures are dropping does not mean you can’t turn up the heat on your job search prospects. COVID-19 and this pandemic economy do not make the task easier. But there are jobs out there for the right candidates. Stay positive and be willing to adjust your job search process. The right position, and offer, is out there for you.
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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.