What makes for a successful job search?
Let’s start with what not to do.
Why? Because this is the biggest mistake I see job applicants of all ages and experiences levels make.
The Everything and the Kitchen Sink Job Search.
The most common and most de-motivating mistake I see job seekers make is to cast their net as wide as possible in the hopes of catching as many fish as possible.
You only *need* one job.
Just because you CAN do a job, doesn’t mean you should apply.
This means that before you even write your resume, your best bet is to dig deep, get clear and choose a specific direction.
I like to call this the “ideal job.”
This clarity will help you with every aspect of your job search, from writing your resume to completing the application through to the interview.
It will even help with your salary and onboarding negotiations.
“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.”
― Kofi Annan
Going after the job you want is SCARY.
And yet, if you go after any job, at some point in the future, you will end up burned out, unhappy, or otherwise in a bad spot.
If you don’t know your ideal job, then before you start your job search, take some time to build your self-awareness. Your job search will benefit from you taking the time to re-visit your experiences, values, and strengths. This information gives you clarity and confidence to use those to launch a targeted and narrow job search.
Your future hiring manager wants to know what makes you stand out and how you will contribute to making her team better.
She wants to hear what you can do with confidence and joy.
Leverage Your Values
How do you show up at work?
What Values do you put In Action? What kind of company and or people do you want to work with?
These are always good questions to have an answer to, but particularly so when you are looking for a new job. The answers to these questions crucial to connecting with the right employer.
For the last twenty years or so various entities have been tracking employee engagement and most companies find that only about 20% of employees are fully engaged.
This statistic is easy to blame on the company. It also stems from folks who think of their job as simply a paycheck or who are afraid to seek out the job they REALLY want.
If you want more than a “job” if you want to be the one that is hired, then check-in with and proudly clarify your values.
You can do this simply by making a list of your top values or you can take the VIA Character Strengths Survey (free).
If you want to dig deeper into your values to help you connect your work to your purpose you might consider working with a coach or reading The Values Factor by Dr. DeMartini.
Understand Your Strengths
Talking about what you do well is intimidating to many folks. It’s perfectly natural to fear rejection or judgment.
And, to get the job you want you must find the courage and learn to talk about your strengths with confidence.
In a runoff of two candidates — the positive, optimistic candidate that says “Yes! I can do that!” is the one that will get hired.
The job search is not the time to get humble. It’s not the time to say “If you give me a chance, I’ll do my best.” No, it’s the time to say “YES! I can do it.”
The person hiring you will know they are giving you a chance.
Your confidence is what makes them believe that they SHOULD.
How to Build Confidence?
After all that, how do you build your confidence? My favorite confidence-building tool is the Gallup StrengthsFinder (amazon affiliate link). The reason I love this survey is two-fold.
First, it helps my clients to embrace what they do well, giving them the language and catchphrases to talk about their natural talents, boosting their confidence.
If you’ve fallen into letting folks confuse your humility for mediocrity in the past, you *need* to do the StrengthsFinder and work on identifying and talking about what you do well.
For example, maybe you always know exactly what a client needs, which makes you the go-to person for solving client problems, making them feel better and then selling them the perfect marketing campaign.
You find out that you’ve got strengths in Empathy, Individualization, and Woo.
Suddenly you understand that this ability of your is not an accident, but something that you truly, naturally do well.
Shout it from the mountaintops — or at the least — say it upfront in your resume!
Second, often my clients get a miraculous “ah-ha!” when working with the Strengths Finder. These “ah-has” generally come from the client learning to see something that they’d thought was a weakness as a strength! This can be life-changing.
For example, many people who have both Learner and Input as strengths have been told they lack focus.
In fact, these people gather and collect information and can figure out just about anything.
They are driven to learn and understand how things work — it’s quite possible that such a person can be very much focused when needed — even laser-focused on learning a new skill.
And, these folks will not be happy in long-term maintenance jobs, say, staff accountant, because if they are not learning or experiencing new events, they’ll get bored.
In the wrong job, your strength will become your weakness. Therefore, you need to know your strengths and celebrate them and leverage them to get a job that allows you to be yourself.
Or a client with the “context” strength will now have the tools and understanding to take what is often seen as a “negative nelly attitude” and turn it into a valuable “risk assessment” attitude.
You need to make sure that you buy a new book (or the Kindle version) to get an Access Code to take the test online.
You can take the test directly online without buying the book (no affiliation on my part).
Personally, I like having the book so that I can go back and read up on my own profile and learn about other people’s profiles.
What if I already have my Strengths Profile?
If you took the test more than 5 to 10 years ago or you’ve had a major life event (graduated, became a parent, pivoted careers, divorced, lived through a pandemic, etcetera), I’d retake the test. Your top few strengths will likely stay the same, but you might have built out or embraced a few different strengths.
If you don’t *like* your StrengthsFinder Results that’s a sure sign to have a conversation with a coach!
Identify THE Job You Want
At about this point you may have forgotten how we started — that a successful job search is a focused job search.
Now that you’ve worked on your values and your strengths get really specific about what kind of work place will eltyou live your values and leverage yoru strengths.
You may have the hard learned skills to do certain types of work, but is this the work you want to be doing?
You may love helping others and be drawn to certain types of organizations, but will they pay you what you are worth?
What does not just one slice of your “job pie” look like, but what is the entire pie — or picture? What do you need in terms of environment and culture, salary and relationships, opportunities to learn and develop?
What is the job that you want? And what story do you need to tell to get hired into the job?
This is the ingredients and the recipe for a successful job search.
When I first came to Alison for coaching, I was lacking any real results in my job search. In a couple of short months Alison coached me through clarifying my career goals, diving deeper into my past experience, vastly improving my resume, and learning to sell myself better in the interview. The results speak for themselves. I am happy to say that I began receiving a lot more interest from employers from application to interview. I have accepted a very generous offer as a result of Alison's guidance.
Write Accomplishment Stories
As you may now understand, too many resumes sound like regurgitated job descriptions. Other resumes lack any measure of your specific successes (metrics). A successful resume will do a bit of both.
Before you write your resume take some time to go over your most recent job and then go back ten to fifteen years.
Answer the following questions for each job in your work history:
“What was I hired to do?” is not enough. Most people talk about this on their resume — often simply by regurgitating their job description.
Don’t stop there — to get your ideal job — to have a successful job search — you need to go farther.
Also, don’t get lulled into a feeling of security by simply adding in a few metrics to show your economic or other impacts on the business.
What makes a resume unique and interesting is finding a way to also talk about your unique experiences and really show how you learned and changed yourself and/or impacted the organization.
Uncover these by answer the following questions.
- Where in my work did I get to do something unexpected?
- What did I learn?
- How is/was the best part of this job? What did I enjoy most?
- What were my biggest accomplishments?
- Why did I love (or hate) this work?
- Did anything happen that caused me to change my course or do something differently? (Problem, failure, success?)
Now you can take the information from these questions to write mini-accomplishment stories, weaving together your learnings and successes with the metrics to show your full capacity and what you like to work with.
Create a Professional Narrative
Once you’ve gone over your values, your strengths, your accomplishments, and your needs, you should be clear about the direction you are going. Please write it down.
This is YOUR story. Some people might call this an elevator pitch. Others your personal branding story.
What you call it doesn’t really matter, but it should roll off your tongue and feel authentic to you. Your narrative should have a bit of color, and it should sound like you; it should be memorable. It should help that you do your work with confidence and joy.
Are you a software engineer with attention to detail? Or are you a software engineer that delights in stuff that works?
In his book Knock’em Dead Resumes, New York Times Award-Winning Resume Writer Martin Yates calls this narrative paragraph your Performance Profile. He compares this to a “performance profile” for your favorite car — what are your features, your values, your unique add-ons?
Once you nail your narrative, you can use it as the first paragraph on your resume and your LinkedIn profile, and in any networking emails, messages, or calls that you make. Own your story and use it to get hired!
Write That Resume
Now that you’ve done the deep work, it’s time to sit down and write your resume. If you feel like this is a huge or overwhelming chore, break down your resume into sections and do each one in a specified chunk of time.
You should already have your Professional Summary written, and you’ve written out your accomplishment stories. What you might be missing is a list of core competencies or skills and technologies/frameworks.
I’ve included an image of a simple resume template for you to follow. If you get stuck — I invite you to reach out to me for a resume review — I do live reviews over zoom video — schedule one here!
Ultimately, a successful job search relies on you knowing yourself, knowing your values, knowing what you can do, what kind of environment you want to work in, and where you want to go.
If you cannot figure this out independently, you might want to work with a coach. People hire me to seek out the career they really want — not just any job — but a calling.
Curious? Read more about what I do on my site.