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Tough Job Search? Don’t be a Turtle!

It was July 3rd and the year was 1985. I was in a car with my girlfriend, engagement ring hidden safely in my pocket, racing the setting sun to our favorite spot in the Finger Lakes. I had it all planned down to the minute. Get to the lake, propose, the sun will set, and we have a memory for a lifetime. Suddenly, the car came to a complete stop as we watched and waited for a very slow turtle to make its way across the two-lane county road. Several agonizing minutes later we were on our way again, racing the sinking sun. We made it, and she said yes! Happily married for 33 years now, I still see that turtle as a metaphor for many things in life.

Beyond serving as an impediment to engagement proposals, what are the two defining characteristics of the turtle? Speed, as in slow and plodding. And fear, as in retreat into the safety of a hard shell at the first sign of trouble. When it comes to a successful job search, you don’t want to be the turtle. Paralyzing fear, retreat into your shell, and a slow, plodding pace are job killers.

The Wall Street Journal recently ranked Rochester NY as the worst job market among the top cities in the US. Number 53 out of 53. Dead last. Colder than an Upstate NY January blizzard. If you are looking for your next job in Rochester, it’s certainly not easy, and the desire to turtle is ever present. So, how do we avoid the turtle? You need to think and act like a sales rep. Slow economy, fierce competitors, low prices, old product? If you have been in sales long enough, you will have faced any number of these obstacles. But you still have a quota to deliver so you adapt and press forward. You don’t turtle. Here are a few job search points to consider when the times are tougher than usual.

  • Believe in what you are selling. In your job search, you are selling the most important product in the world. Yourself. If you don’t believe in your value, do you think your customer (aka the hiring manager) will want to make the purchase? Bring your best stories to the surface to showcase your strengths and build a compelling elevator pitch. Practice that pitch in the mirror and then to friends, family and trusted associates. Get to the point where you have a 60 second, 150-word pitch that you can execute on demand. Rehearsed but with a natural delivery.

  • Research your sales territory. In a tough sales territory or a slow job market, you must invest more time to research your targets. Successful sales reps plan each week understanding exactly where and how they will spend their selling time. In a challenging job market, you need to work the same way. Develop a list of the industries and organizations where your pitch will have the highest resonance. You can start with a list of 100 or more potential targets and then filter that list down to a manageable 20 to 30 target organizations. Once you have your target list defined, it’s time to begin the research. This research is far more than merely reviewing company websites. What are the current trends in the industry? What are the growth prospects for the industry in the next five years? Who are the leaders in the industry and what are they saying? What are analysts saying about the industry and organizations you have targeted? What challenges are your target companies facing and are they in a hiring mode or are they contracting human resources?

  • Get the network on your side. The easiest sales calls in my career were the ones where a current customer referred me to a new prospect. Think of your professional network as your very own public relations firm. Aim for 150 professionals in your specific job search network. Once established, the network will help market your story to potential employers. Whether you are selling a product or yourself, it works the same way. Referrals will open the door for you. A tight job market doesn’t mean that no one is hiring. It just means that you need to look farther and wider. I would rather have 151 people looking than just little old lonesome me!

  • Prepare yourself and research your buyer. Imagine making a sales pitch for a $100,000 project. The best sales reps will practice that pitch and research the buyer until they know the target better than they know themselves. Now imagine you are interviewing for a job with a $100,000 salary. Average job tenure is three years or longer. That interview is now a $300,000+ sales pitch. Are you going to just wing it, come to the interview, and hope for the best? I worked many years for a CEO who always said that “Hope is not a strategy.” 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!

Maybe times aren’t tough where you live today and interviews and offers are falling into your lap. If that’s the case, enjoy the ride but remember that the worm can always turn. Up here in sunny Rochester NY, times are a little more difficult right now. Keep the turtle in the aquarium, off the road and out of your job search! We need to run a little faster than the turtle. We need to get out from behind our computer screen and not be afraid to meet some strangers. And we are going to be a lot more prepared than that turtle who tried to hold up my engagement proposal so many years ago!

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.

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