My piece in BrazenLife, from August 1, 2012:
You’re ambitious, hardworking and smart. Your resume is polished, your cover letter is relevant and you’re networking.
Yet, you’re still getting rejected from every job you apply for.
Sound familiar? If so, you may be ignoring one of these unwritten rules of job searching.
1. Be organized
Use a label for all job-search-related emails. Use a program like SpringPad or Excel to track all the positions and organizations you’re interested in, all the resources you use and all the people you meet with. You can also get extra fancy and track other data such as date of application, date of interview and related contacts.
If you aren’t speaking with two or three people about your search daily, you aren’t networking enough. Talk with friends, friends of friends, contacts you find on LinkedIn or at an event, recommendations from your school’s career center (even if you graduated long ago) and recommendations of recommendations. Think strategically about each networking request, and keep an organization doc for that, too, if it helps you stay on track.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask—and make it easy to say yes
Make it easy for your contact to qualify your request and help you. Be specific and strategic about the people and/or organizations you want them to connect you with or the advice you’re asking for.
Write introductory emails or talking points they can easily forward along, and make sure you aren’t asking for too many things at once. And if someone is unable to help, don’t hold it against them. People have to preserve their network and reputation. They can’t introduce their powerful contacts to every person they speak with.
3. Don’t apply for jobs you don’t want
We all do it. It’s easy to get excited for any seemingly good, somewhat tangentially related to what you want to do, open position you can find.
But do you really want this job? Will it be a good fit for you? Be honest with yourself about your strengths, work environment preferences and goals, and do your research on what the company and position offer.
Here’s a test: if you’re not willing to put in the effort for a customized resume and cover letter, you probably don’t want the position enough. (And yes, every application needs to be customized. Even inexperienced hiring managers can tell as soon as they open an application when it’s not customized.)
We sometimes think if we apply to as many jobs as possible, we’ll get a job faster. In fact, that’s just a waste of your time and the organizations’ time. Instead, apply smart.
4. Start somewhere
If a good opportunity comes your way and you’re early in your career or moving to a new field, you need to start somewhere.
Say the position isn’t ideal—do you care about the organization’s mission? Is there opportunity for growth? Then treat the position as if it were your dream job, prove you are an asset to the team, gain new skills and be honest about your career goals at the company. Doing so could also introduce you to new interests and goals you didn’t know you had.
5. Be honest
Be honest in interviews about your strengths, weaknesses and what type of position and work environment you’re looking for. Interviewers can tell when you’re being genuine, and they’ll appreciate your honesty. Even if you’re a great actor, your interviewer can detect when you don’t actually want the job, so you’re just sabotaging yourself.
And don’t forget: interviews are rarely about your skills and almost always about fit for the company and the position.
6. Be observant
Interviews are two-way. Not only is the employer seeing whether you’re a good fit for them, you’realso determining whether the company and team are good fits for you.
How does your interviewer treat you? Was the interview process organized, slow or fast? How do they talk about teamwork, your position and their own work? These are all things to consider.
7. Always help others
Just because the job market is competitive doesn’t mean you can’t collaborate. If you find a job that is a better fit for someone else, share it with them.
Whether you are in the midst of a search yourself or settled in a job, it’s important to give back and share… because what goes around, comes around.
We can all learn during the challenging job search process, so take advantage of the opportunity for personal reflection and discovering more about your industry.
After all, learning is a quality that will help you no matter what job you land in.