10 Steps to Jump-Starting a Stalled Job Search

A good job search ends quickly. An unsuccessful one drags on for weeks or even months with nothing to show for it, except perhaps disinterest, despondency, or even disaster.

The work you put into structuring a job search can be more important than the work you dedicate to the search itself.

Executive coach Robert Hellmann, president of Hellmann Career Consulting, discussed what to do when your job-search efforts have stalled at the 70th CFA Institute Annual Conference.

“I want to give you a way to diagnose an ailing job search,” he declared. Hellmann outlined 10 behaviours that form the foundation for an effective search. If any are unfamiliar, focusing in on them could revitalise your efforts:

  • Position yourself correctly. “You have to make sure that you’re talking in a way that will appeal to your audience,” Hellmann explained. Who’s your audience? Your potential employers. Understand how they describe the role and use that understanding to show that you are a good fit. Remember that using jargon from your current position will only resonate with people who can offer you more of the same.
  • Use a targeted approach. Apply for a specific job and make sure your resume establishes that you are what they are looking for. Trying to appeal to multiple employers at once can make you seem like a vague generalist — you could be passed over in favor of someone displaying focused skills that are suitable for the role.
  • Prioritise your targets. Your job search should start with a single aim, but be prepared to follow through on secondary targets. “Start with target one,” Hellmann said. “Build some momentum with that.” Even if your first attempt does not yield a job offer, the practice you gain from preparing and applying will sharpen your skills to make your next effort more effective.
  • Get active. Responding to online listings and uploading resumes to websites, which Hellmann described as passive job search methods, can be useful. However, he warned that with these methods, “the competition is crazy.” Applicants are more reluctant to try active approaches, such as arranging informational meetings and contacting people directly about open job positions. As a result, putting in the extra effort can help you distinguish yourself.
  • Stay active. Always be proactive, Hellmann said. Follow up, keep in touch, and take advantage of opportunities to communicate your interests and abilities. “No more ‘Thank You’ letters,” Hellmann declared. Instead of a tepid note thanking interviewers for their time, he recommended writing influence letters. These post-interview messages can address concerns raised during the interview, highlight accomplishments that may have been overlooked, or provide additional opportunities to demonstrate that you are the best possible fit for the job.
  • Communicate well. The skills that help you perform a job may not be the same as those that help you get that job. “Put on that ‘I am the best salesperson in the world’ hat,” Hellmann urged, which may be an unfamiliar and ill-fitting hat for people who don’t work in sales roles. Reviewing resources to support your “soft” skills development could be helpful.
  • Meet with enough people. Once your job search is underway, you need to keep up your momentum, but don’t spread yourself too thin. Hellmann recommended having six meetings on your calendar “with people who can hire you” at any given point in your job search. This means setting up new meetings and starting new conversations even as the old ones draw to a close.
  • Have enough targets. You should focus on one job opening at a time, but you should be focused in an area that provides you with many opportunities. Positioning yourself to apply for jobs as a managing director for sustainable land-use practices at a dairy farm in Mongolia will not yield a lot of options, and is likely to end in disappointment. “It’s a numbers game,” Hellmann said, suggesting that more job openings will give you more chances to find employment.
  • Put in the hours. Hellmann recommended spending 10 to 15 hours per week on a part-time job search. A full-time job search should be treated like a full-time job, and Hellmann said that you should dedicate at least 35 hours per week trying to land a new position.
  • Have fun. Hellmann’s final piece of advice may sound like a cliché, but all clichés contain a kernel of truth. If you think that discussing a specific job or industry is tedious, then why would you want to spend the rest of your career there

Hellmann drew on his experience working with clients through his consulting firm, especially those who were having difficulty in their search. “Most of the time,” he said, “I found that actually, the real underlying problem is a gap” in one of the activities on his list.

It’s rare to receive an offer for your dream job out of the blue. If you go out and look for that job, you will have a better chance of finding it — and hopefully, you will find it quickly.

Hellmann’s strategies make a good starting point for the times when that fails to happen.

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