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Two Essential Job Search Strategies I Learned from My 94-Year-Old Mother

This past month, I visited my mother to celebrate her 94th birthday. Still living at home, with assistance, she is an amazing woman who worked most of her life as a reading teacher for young children. Reading, writing, and words matter dearly to my mother. She still completes the Word Jumble in the newspaper every morning. And she loves to tell stories. One tale from this most recent visit, upon reflection, may hold a couple of lessons for winning the job search and finding your next great job.

One year in high school, I brought home a paper I had authored on a Shakespeare play we had read for a class assignment. Beaming with pride, a hard-earned “B” grade in hand, I shared the paper with my mother. To say she was not happy would be an understatement. My mother immediately scheduled a meeting with my English teacher to discuss the letter grade. You would, naturally, believe I had one of the original helicopter parents. But you would be wrong. More like a reverse helicopter. My mother explained to the teacher that my paper did not deserve a “B” grade. At best, she explained, it was worthy of a “D” grade! Such was my youth.

In between bites of birthday cake and laughter, I reflected that this favorite story shed some light on two essential job search strategies I could share in my weekly blog.

Excellent writing skills are a ticket to entry.

The ability to write clearly and correctly will not automatically produce your next job offer. But poor grammar, typographical errors, and generic sentence construction will ensure that you never get past the front door. These errors frequently top the list of reasons why recruiters reject candidates for first-round interviews. Written and verbal communication skills are highly valued soft skills in today’s job market. Additionally, grammatical and typographical errors project a lack of attention to detail in a prospective candidate. Not your best foot forward approach with a future employer. So, if you were not an English major in college, how do you step up your writing game with minimal financial investment.

  • Sign up for Grammarly. Technology is your best ally. I’m suggesting taking a step beyond the spellcheck function in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Grammarly is a web and desktop-based service that not only finds and correct spelling and grammatical errors but also will recommend improvements to your writing style and sentence construction. You can sign up for the free version with limited functionality. I recommend investing in the Premium version which at less than $12 per month is an excellent investment in your job search toolkit.

  • Lose the Netflix. I love binge watching as much as the next guy (my current favorite is Bodyguard on Netflix). But watching television and streaming your favorite shows will not help improve your writing skills. Reading, on the other hand, can have a significant positive impact on your ability to write more effectively. Aim to read at least one book every two weeks. You can even double dip and focus your reading on books related to the job search process, resume and cover letter development, networking and also interviewing. The best thing about this strategy is it doesn’t have to cost anything. My new favorite application is Libby by Overdrive. Install the app on your mobile device, link your public library card, and you have free and immediate access to a world of excellent book and writing examples.

  • Phone a Friend. Nothing beats a second set of eyes. We all have “that friend” who had a 4.0 GPA in college. You don’t have to pay a professional editor to review your writing and personal branding documents. But you should always ask a friend or colleague to take more than a cursory look at your writing samples, resume and cover letter to catch any errors and offer some suggestions to improve the flow of communication.

Confidence Matters…in the Right Measure.

Recruiters and hiring managers are usually excellent detectives. They have a heightened sense of smell. I am not referring to the occasional candidate that does not shower before an interview (perhaps a topic for another article). Instead, I am talking about the smell of fear or more specifically, a lack of confidence. It sounds simplistic to say, but it is as real as the day is long. In the job search process, you must believe in yourself before you can expect an employer to believe in you enough to offer you a job or even an interview. Lack of confidence in the job search process takes many forms.

  • Resume and LinkedIn headlines that default to the current job title. A LinkedIn profile or resume headline that says “Channel Manager at ABC Company” demonstrates you don’t value yourself enough to take ownership of your brand. Invest the time to develop a compelling and keyword relevant headline that shows who you are and your value proposition is defined by you and not an employer.

  • Your elevator pitch is in the witness protection program. If you don’t have a persuasive elevator pitch that tells your story and demonstrates your value, why should I believe that you can confidently add value to my organization? Answer the “Tell me about yourself” question with a boring monologue of past positions and responsibilities, and you are dead in the water. The first step in winning the job search is to craft your elevator pitch.

  • Don’t be a turtle in the interview. When it comes to the interview, your confidence, or lack thereof, is on full display. Turtles that don’t come out of their shell in the interview rarely advance to the next round or get the job offer. Remember that you got the interview for a reason. You have the skills and experience the employer is seeking. Stand tall. Make the interview a conversation and answer the questions with STAR stories that demonstrate your value with real-world metrics and results.

  • Don’t be a braggart. Self-confidence is good. Boasting is a deal killer. I thought I had that high school paper nailed. My mother had a far different opinion. There is a big difference between self-confidence and overconfidence. Stick with the former in your job search. This article demonstrates how over-confidence ends the interview quickly at both Amazon and Google.

If you are in the middle of a long and protracted job search, the day to day to grind can be frustrating with no end in sight. Take a moment to pause and reflect. Remember that you have intrinsic value. If you apply the right strategies, build a big enough funnel, and stick with the process, you will find that next job. And if you have a 94-year-old mother, please go see her. She has a few stories to tell!

If you like getting your job search advice served up with an authentic voice, a dose of humility, and some popular culture, please subscribe to my AdvantEdge blog.

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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