Brad Waters MSW

Design Your Path

Portrait of a Successful Job Seeker

A case study on career development.

Posted Jun 12, 2018

A client of mine, I'll call her Christine, recently landed a six-figure contract with a global company. This was the second six-figure contract she's landed in as many years. Each time she changed jobs in recent years she was able to land interviews like it was as easy as snapping her fingers.

Contrast Christine's experience to Robert's. Robert was in the job market for a year. He landed only a few interviews—positions he wasn't particularly interested in—and was never given an offer. Robert got so frustrated with the job search process he exited it altogether and went back to school.

Christine and Robert are similar in that they are both middle-aged and both have over a decade of experience under their belt. They have different specializations but to keep things simple let's say they're both in marketing. A field that requires daily creativity, flexibility, savvy communication, and the ability to present ideas confidently. This last sentence matters and it's where their stories diverge.

When Christine sees an interesting job opening, she applies with a strong resume and a cover letter that is brief and enthusiastic. She then hops on LinkedIn. Her profile is clear and concise. Reading it, you get the sense she understands the problems companies have and she knows just how to solve them. It reads with confidence and experience. It contains the correct keywords for her industry but it's not awkwardly flooded with them. As a result, it seems like every week she's being approached by recruiters who found her profile, inviting her for phone screenings.

On LinkedIn she looks for mutual connections at the companies she applies for. If she doesn't find any connections, she makes them. She reads through employee profiles and sends connection requests to those who have similar jobs or to those who might be influencers in the relevant department. She researches the company thoroughly and is armed with information and thoughtful questions should the phone ring.

But Christine doesn't just wait for job openings to pop up on Indeed or LinkedIn. She looks for interesting companies within a commutable distance and reaches out to them. She proactively places herself on their radar screens. She sends them brief messages that are friendly, professional, and to-the-point. Like some of my other successful job seekers, when she is particularly enthusiastic about a company or a job opening, she might flat out ask a Director for a few minutes of their time to hop on a call. It often works.

Her resume is impeccable. She incorporated feedback from others, but she wrote it herself—it's her voice. It's traditionally formatted, two pages, black and white, sans-serif font, and easy to read. It's confident but not cocky. It has zero gimmicks: No colors, graphical swirls, borders, pictures, fancy fonts, call-out boxes or anything else we're erroneously led to believe will help our resume stand out from the crowd. Let the evidence show: Time and time again it's the simple and traditional resumes that go the distance.

When she lands an interview she schedules a call with me to talk through any concerns and formulate a strategy. We practice responses to tough questions and the calls help bolster a positive and confident mindset. She knows what she wants to convey in an interview and she practices how to say it without stumbling. She knows she has to sound confident without sounding rehearsed. Along with that, she has learned how to be more herself in interviews. She understands that employers want to hear not just her list of accomplishments but also her uniqueness, her perspective, her humor, her warmth, her willingness to be flexible and grow in the new environment. Indeed, employers want humans. Nice ones at that.

After her interviews, Christine sends everybody involved a thank you note reiterating her esteem for the company and her interest in the job. If she doesn't hear back from the recruiter or hiring manager about the position, she contacts them for an update. If she's passed over for that particular position, she keeps a foot in the door by making sure she has harnessed opportunities for LinkedIn connections and asks to be considered for future opportunities.  

Robert has a strong attachment to his resume. It was a template he downloaded after being drawn to the colored headers and social media icons. After months of an unsuccessful job hunt and months of that resume failing to land him interviews, he came to me for help. I suggested he create a new resume from scratch using a traditional chronological format. He said he understood my rationale but felt his resume looked great as-is and made very few changes.

He updated his LinkedIn profile, but some of the language was awkward and contained a couple spelling mistakes. He said he regularly perused LinkedIn for job postings but wasn't a fan of using it as a networking tool.

We discussed interview questions but I got the sense he wasn't doing his homework. He had difficulty formulating responses that were confident and concise. He half-heartedly applied to dozens and dozens of jobs rather than giving a limited number of openings his fullest attention. His frustration with the job search process was perceptible in his voice. His fatigue led him to give up on trying new strategies or reworking his documents. Gradually he admitted to me that he was burned out in the field of marketing and was just in it for the paycheck. I'm sure employers could sense his lack of enthusiasm.

Two significant factors in Christine's success are her flexibility and her enthusiasm. She's always willing to refresh her application materials, to connect with new people, and to change her approach even if it might initially feel uncomfortable. When an interview doesn't go as smoothly as she hopes, she dissects it and explores ways to present herself differently next time. And even when she's feeling discouraged, she leaves it outside the door. She connects with her enthusiasm and competence for doing great work and that's what she brings to the interview table.