Five steps to get back to work

Richard is an experienced manager with a good degree in Computer Science. He’s a qualified Project Manager and he’s been searching for a new job for over six months. During that time he’s applied for over fifty jobs and he hasn’t had a single interview.

Richard’s a bright guy who has been working continuously since he left university. He’s hardly ever had to search for work; his previous jobs have always come to him through his network of former colleagues, friends from the football club and calls from recruitment consultants. He’s always been in work.

I asked Richard to send me his CV. It was a bland affair that he had clearly cobbled together from the job descriptions of each of his jobs over the last 15 years. Nowhere in the CV did he refer to the value that he’d created for his employers, the benefits realised, and the failing projects that he’d rescued. There was really nothing in his CV that would convince a recruiter or potential employer that he was the applicant to call in for interview.

When I looked at the jobs that he had applied for I knew immediately that, with a little knowledge and some extra effort he could have been short-listed for each of those jobs. He had the skills, experience and qualifications required but he just hadn’t made it clear in his job applications.

As a professional careers coach I speak to people like Richard almost every day. It’s a very typical story for the large number of managers who are currently searching for jobs. And yet judging by the CVs that I see, only a tiny percentage of those managers truly understand the dynamics of a professional job search. Those clever, well-educated and successful professionals know how to manage projects, control big budgets and direct teams but most of them just don’t know how to go about finding a job.

But, despite the gloomy economic outlook, there are jobs available. There are roles in almost every job category advertised in the newspapers each week. On a single Internet site in the UK there are currently over 350,000 vacancies. And yet many very well qualified and experienced people are still struggling to find a new job.

Why is that?

It’s simply because employers and recruiters are inundated with CVs, with many advertised vacancies receiving a hundred more applications. Rather surprisingly many of those applications are of very poor quality. Employers and recruiters frequently comment that even senior level applications are rejected out of hand because of poorly written CVs and application forms that contain typos, spelling mistakes or bad grammar. Furthermore many candidates fail to read the job advertisement thoroughly and either do not have the required skills or experience or, like Richard, have not provided proper evidence of their skills or experience that would encourage an employer or recruiter to short-list them or invite them to interviews.

All of the above should send a clear message to job hunters. The process of applying for a new job and attending interviews in the current job market is going to be tough and needs to be treated with the same energy and professionalism that any manager would apply to their actual job. The fact that this is often not the case should encourage the readers of this article! The clear implication is that while there is undoubtedly tough competition for jobs, many job hunters fail to put in the time and effort required to properly control the quality of their applications and continue to submit CVs that are either full of errors or do not provide sufficient evidence to support their application.

So here’s my five step action plan to help people like Richard get back to work:

  1. Richard should stop sending out so many job applications. Instead he should concentrate on identifying just a few positions where he is certain that he has all the required skills and experience. It’s quality not quantity that matters in today’s tough recruitment market.
  2. In addition to applying for jobs that are advertised on the Internet job boards and in the press Richard should invest some time to identify job opportunities that have not been advertised. Take a look at my post on how to find and apply for unadvertised jobs. Competition in the advertised job market is fierce with many advertisements attracting a hundred or more applications. That’s a lot of competition!
  3. Once Richard has identified the right jobs he should carefully customise each job application so that it is clear to the employer or recruiter that he does in fact have all of the skills and experience mentioned in the job advertisement. Richard should also carefully check and double check his CV and covering letter for typos or grammatical errors.
  4. Once Richard gets invited to interview, he should plan on spending at least a day carefully preparing for the interview. That means researching in depth both the organisation and the interviewer(s). That very first question; “What do you know about us?” has resulted in so many interviewees failing in the first minute of the interview. Researching the interviewer will enable to Richard to pitch his answers to interview questions. Not too technical for the HR manager and with the right amount of detail for the CIO.
  5. Because Richard (like a lot of job hunters) hasn’t attended a “proper” interview for quite a while he should carefully prepare answers to common interview questions and practice answering these with a video camera. Apart from practicing answers to the standards interview questions (What are your key strengths, Why should we hire you, Why do you want to work for us) Richard should also practice answering “competency questions” which focus on past performance. Using the STAR model (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is a great way to answer these questions in a structured way.

There’s lots more information to be found in Total Job Search 2013 (Trotman Publishing) but using these five steps is a great way to get started on the path back to work.

About Jeremy I'Anson

Jeremy I'Anson is the author of You're Hired! Total Job Search 2013 published by Trotman Education. Jeremy provides one-to-one career coaching to job hunters at every level from graduate to CEO. Jeremy writes career related articles for the national press including Computer Weekly and The Guardian. He is the official Career Coach at the Daily Telegraph. View all posts by Jeremy I'Anson

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