The New Job Search Principles

The tactics of old too rarely cut it any more.

Posted Apr 04, 2017

Wellness GM
Source: Wellness GM

Not so long ago, the rules for landing a job were simply to network a lot, polish your resume, and rehearse reassuring answers to questions you’re scared of, like “How come you’ve been underemployed so long?”

Alas, with the decline in good jobs, such tactics are usually not enough. I’d be lying to say I have the magic answer but if you follow these three principles, you’ll have significantly increased your chances.

Hard skills now trump soft.  Self-servingly, colleges argue that what the liberal arts supposedly teach---soft skills like communication, big-picture perspective, and ethics--prepare you not just for your first job but for your lifetime of jobs. That message continues to be echoed by many career counselors who, themselves, are usually longer on soft skills than on hard —We all tend to value our own attributes.

Alas, among the 5,000 career coaching clients I've worked with, I've seen a dramatic change in recent years. In our ever more techno-centric and specialized work world, and with an ever higher percentage of people with college and graduate degrees, employers offering a good job can usually hold out for a candidate with both soft and hard skills. And because more job seekers have soft skills, key to differentiating yourself  is to get deep in some technical or content area---whether sciencey like neuropsychology or not—for example, program evaluation methodology. Fill in any gaps in your soft skills with such time-effective learning methods as a writing tutor, management bootcamp, Toastmasters, etc. You may be able to get away with tech-only skills for entry-level jobs such as coder, but especially as offshoring and in-shoring to low-cost states accelerate, the good jobs that will remain in high-cost locales will be primarily managerial thus requiring both hard and soft skills.

Emotion-centered reach-outs: Unless you have a rare and in-demand skill set and perform at an unusually high level, there usually are a number of applicants who, on the merits, are about as appealing as you are. So the person who gets hired usually has made an emotional connection with the employer.

Thus, the job seeker is more likely today to be successful if s/he’s mastered how to create emotional connection in each job-seeker encounter. At networking events, it helps to know how to get deep fast, but you must accept that it may take more than one encounter to get deep enough that the person is willing to go to the mat for you in helping you get a good job. So, like a flower seed, which requires care and feeding for months, it helps if the job seeker does favors for the person, sends articles of interest, even perhaps volunteers.

In social media, follow dream employers and post thoughtful, positive comments, and after you’ve established yourself as a known friend of the organization, ask if you might meet about a possible job.

In applying for an openly advertised job, the cover letter and resume should avoid sterile job-seeker language (e.g., "I'm a team player and self-starter") and instead convey real interest in and match for the position, for example, with anecdotes.

In job interviews, from the first moment, you must establish kind eye contact with each interviewer, convey enthusiasm, ask good questions, and write a thank-you letter that, with specifics, explains why the interview has made you more interested than ever in the job. And if you can’t honestly say that, search more thoroughly until you can find jobs that you can.

Quantity and quality of efforts. Most of my unsuccessful job seekers reach out to a just a few friends/colleagues and answer a few ads, and if nothing comes of it, give up and focus on keeping the unemployment checks coming.

Most of my successful clients realize they must make many reach-outs, each of quality. When applying through the front door (that is, answering ads,) their applications are thorough and customized, often including collateral material such as a work sample or even a short white papers s/he's written on a topic that would impress that employer. For example, if you’re applying for a fundraiser job, you might write a one-pager: “Four keys to successful fundraising in 2017.”  

In trying to get a job through the back door, that is, developing a relationship with powerful people in target organizations whether or not they're advertising an appropriate job, my successful clients usually have taken the time to build the aforementioned deep connections with as many power people as possible. 

The widely promulgated assertion that most jobs are gotten through networking is simplistic. It depends how well you network, that is, use the tactics mentioned earlier. Unbridled extolling of networking as the job search method is simplistic also in that answering ads can work-- if you apply only for truly on-target jobs, in quantity, and each application is thorough, customized, and demonstrating more enthusiasm than sterility.

The takeaway

It pains me to have to flog you into doing so much work to land a job, especially since an ever higher percentage are gigs, which means you may soon have to job-search again unless you’re a great employee and/or lucky. 

But I don’t want to be guilty of career-counselor pollyanishness. It has become clear to me that today, all but stars need do the hard work I’ve outlined here to have a good shot at landing a good job

Dr. Nemko’s book, The Best of Marty Nemko is now in its 2nd edition. Marty can be reached at mnemko@comcast.net