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Getting a Job the Hard Way - Job Harder

Search for a job is a pretty hard thing to do. Last post, I mentioned some of the prep work the needs to be done (that's right, there's even more prep that you ought to do, but I digress). I'm now going to focus on the actual search, and if you're actually doing your job search the hard way, you need to Job Harder.

Thinly veiled Die Hard references aside, let's get started.

Initial Search

Background: What you need to know

Searching for a job sucks. Period. It can take many months to find work, especially if you don't take your job search seriously.

Needless to say, you should treat your job search like a job. A few other things worth noting:

  • Set regular hours for your search. It doesn't have to be 9-5, but you do need to keep a regular schedule.
  • Be patient. It can take a while to find work. When I graduated, it took me three months to find a place to work at.
  • Don't give up hope. A lot of people abandon their job search because they give up hope. If you keep searching, you'll eventually find what you're looking for. You may need to work at something less than ideal temporarily, but keep hope and remember what you're aiming for

There are also some things you need to know about the employers that you're hoping to get in touch with:

  • Employers look for candidates in the exact opposite as many job seekers:
    1. Hiring from within: part-time person, contractor, or consultant
    2. Hiring using proof: someone who can demonstrate exactly what the employer needs
    3. Hiring from an employee referal
    4. Hiring from a trusted agency
    5. Hiring from an ad (Job seekers tend to start here...)
    6. Hiring from a resume (...or here)
  • Because of the way employers seek out candidates, many jobs never get posted (I've heard it quoted that about 80% of jobs are never posted externally). That's a hint that I'll dig into later; keep it under your hat for now.
  • Employers will not get back to you. Don't take this personally, it's just a thing that they do for some reason. There are lots of (un)qualified candidates, and they don't have time to get back to most (or any) of them

Goals and Tracking

What, no job search yet? We're doing things right, so just play along.

The job search is hard, in no small part because you rarely have any insight as to why you weren't selected or interviewed for a position. One of the best ways to combat this lack of information is to collect information.

As a first step, before you start your job search, you should set up some sort of spreadsheet to track your efforts. Make columns for the job, when you applied, when you followed up, if you made it to an interview, and any other things that may be relevant, like which version of your resume / cover letter you used, or how you contacted the employer about the position.

If you've done that, you now have a valuable tool. You now have visibility into a few different things:

  • How often am I applying for jobs?
  • What jobs am I having more success with than others?
  • What things am I doing poorly in my job search?
  • What methods are more effective than others

Goal setting is important to keep you focussed, and to keep up hope too. Set a goal of contact X many employers for example. If it's too much, you can adjust your goals next week. Even if your job search is not going the way you've planned, you can feel good that you're meeting your goals, and set better goals as your job search improves. Plus, the data you've gathered can help guide your efforts. Brilliant.

Laying out your Search

Alright, the actual job search part. First off, there are, apparently 16 ways to search for a job (according to "What Colour Is Your Parachute?").

  • Mailing out resumes
  • Answering want-ads in the newspaper
  • Going to government (un)employment services
  • Going to private employment agencies
  • Using the Internet
  • Asking friends, family, or community members
  • Asking former professors, teachers, or college career services
  • Knocking on doors
  • Using the Yellow Pages
  • Joining or starting a "Job Club"
  • Doing a thorough self-inventory to know what you want
  • Going to places where employers pick up workers, or union halls
  • Taking a civil service exam
  • Looking at professional journals in your field
  • Going to temp agencies
  • Volunteering

I (personally) think that a few of these methods are pretty out there, but that may have to do with my profession (software development). Worth noting is that regardless how effective each individual method is, using multiple methods of job search is significantly more effective (apparently, up to four methods; beyond that, there are diminishing returns). I'm not going to dwell too much on these methods because the book does a way better job. Do yourself a favour and pickup a recent copy, or check one out at your local library.

More importantly, there are lots of different ways you can search for a job, so don't limit yourself to just one. Sure, you can try the "shotgun approach" online, but maybe there are better ways to focus your efforts.

Now that you know the umpteen different ways you can do your job search, lets talk a bit searching.

There are a few things you need to know as you start writing up a list of places to contact (which you should totally do):

  • Which skills do you enjoy using?
  • What kind of work environment do you work well in?

If you did your homework, you have this already (as well as the places that you want to potentially contact). If you haven't... well, think about it.

These questions will help guide you towards the sort of companies you want to start researching. Once you have some idea of the companies you want to apply to, you can start finding out:

  • What positions are open at that company
  • Who you need to contact about opportunities
  • Who makes actual hiring decisions

If you've done your research, you can probably start calling, emailing, or however you plan on contacting people. But, before that, you might want to read the next section.

Networking

Networking? If this word makes your skin crawl... then we'd probably get along. Mostly. I originally had the impression that networking was this sleazy, almost nepotistic thing that people did to get ahead.

I have since been shown that this is not the case. Employers have way too many candidates: the signal-to-noise ratio is way too low. Because of this, as you saw above, they tend to hire in ways that reduce the noise.

For those who don't know what 'networking' is, networking is the process of building up connections with colleagues, usually for a specific purpose, but not necessarily. Your friends and family are all a part of your network, as are your co-workers. Building up this network allows a lot of great things to happen, like a colleague telling you about a cool event that's going on, or a job opportunity.

If all this sounds too good to be true... well, it is. Building up a network of people is great. But theres one very important thing to note about networking.

Networking is not about you. You heard that right. Networking is all about "what can I do for you?". We all want to help each other out, and the first part of that is helping others before helping yourself. That's not to say that, in your job search, you can't ask people about work, it just means that how you go about things has to be more delicate.

Alright, so how exactly do you build up your network? Well, there are lots of opportunities. Every interview you have, you have the opportunity to connect with someone (which is why LinkedIn is so great, if I haven't mentioned it already), every fellow job seeker you meet, every job fair you go to, they all have opportunities to learn about people and build up your network.

If I haven't mentioned, you should totally find recuriting events in your area. Aside from the fact that business at these events are looking to hire, you can also build up your network should opportunities become available in the future.

What if you can't reach the business you're interested in? In that case, this little tip could be handy. If you go on a site like LinkedIn, you can tap your network for assistance (e.g. find a friend who knows someone who works for the company you're interested in), or alternatively, search for people at the company you're interested in. Assuming you can get some contact information, you can get in touch with the (random) employee, tell them how you great you think the company is, and if it would be possible to meet up to chat and learn more about the company.

Shot in the dark? Sure, but you'd be surprised how many people will, if nothing else, point you towards another employee who can help you out with your job search (maybe a hiring manager even). Or heck, they may send you back an email about how awesome the company is, and where they're hiring. Honestly, it's surprising what can happen: People are generally very proud of where they work, and would love to tell you about their job.

Once you have that network set up, you've got lots of people you can contact about work, or aid in your job search. Of course, you can now help out other job seekers, or other folks in your network. It's a small obligation, but its worth it.

Job Postings

Alright, hopefully all your networking has paid off, but job postings deserve a special note, because you're using multiple methods in your job search, right?

Job postings are, generally, BS.

They aren't BS because the jobs don't exist (which can be the case if the position is filled internally due to ... politics), they're BS because many positions, depending on the field, can grossly skew the position.

For example, and I can only talk to my experience, many software development positions list all sorts of absurd requirements. The company may need expertise in a certain language (e.g. Python), but ask for experience in many other, irrelevant languages. Or, the company may be asking for some many years experience. It's possible that the people writing the job description aren't terribly in touch with the position itself (e.g. if the HR person is writing the job description).

In cases like these, the employer is casting a big net to see what they can get. Don't let this intimidate you. If it sounds like you meet a lot of the requirements for a job, by all means, apply. If a company is asking for 3-5 years experience and you have two or three, apply anyway: they are just looking for someone who has dealt with tough problems and can handle things. If you're worried that you're under-experienced, bone up on the position, and have examples to show your expertise.

Don't let job postings scare you.

Follow-up and the Cycle

Alright, so you know who to contact at a company, you've networked, you've applied to jobs: now what?

This is probably the worst part of the search. The waiting.

If you're doing your record keeping, this part shouldn't be too bad: you'll know exactly when you applied, and when you said you'd follow-up, so, just do that.

If you haven't, Y U NO LIEK JOB SEARCH???

In all seriousness, its important that you follow up with companies because, as I mentioned, companies will not get back to you. They have too many applicants, and many other things to do. Following up gives them a reminder that you actually are interested in the position. Many folks will not follow up, and will drop off the radar for the employer. You may think it's a bit annoying (for both parties), but you want a job, so keep following up!

All it takes is a quick phone call with your contact saying something like this:

Hi, I'm Nick. I was just calling about the X position that you have open. I applied for the position on Y, and I was just wondering how the application process was coming along.

Tailor the message to your audience if course, but that's all it takes.

If you are going to follow up, you should generally choose phone over email. Yes, email is easier, but it is also much easier to ignore. When was the last time you called someone up and as soon as they knew who it was, they hung up on you?

As a general rule, follow-up with the company once a week. If you get the chance (because a position is filled) try to find out why you weren't selected. This is incredibly valuable feedback if you can get it!

If you're following up, all that's left is to keep things up and wait until someone gets back to you (which will happen. eventually).

Interviewing and Beyond

Hooray, you got an interview!

Honestly, I'm not going to talk much regarding interviewing and job offers and all that. Why? getting an interview is often the hardest part. If you've been doing your record keeping, you should know what things you've done that have gotten you to the interview, and you can repeat that process to get more interviews.

One bit to add I suppose. If you do get an interview, but don't get a job, follow-up and see if you can find out why you weren't selected. As mentioned above, this is valuable information.

Bits and Pieces

I definitely forgot to mention a few things in my first article, and perhaps didn't stat a few implicit assumptions. I'm going to include them here, since it's pretty much one big article.

  • I'm assuming that the industry you work in isn't highly regulated. I know, for examples, that teachers in Ontario can't exactly network in the same way because of the way they are hired. I'm sure there are other industries where you can't get in touch with the person responsible for hiring.
  • I'm also assuming that, if you're reading this, you're some sort of professional.
  • I'm also assuming that the places you're trying to get in touch with are reasonable companies, and don't have stupid hiring practices with lots of red tape

I also forgot to mention that there are other valuable resources for your preparation that can aid in guiding your search. Things like knowing your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or taking other similar surveys.

Closing Notes

In closing, the job search is hard. Prep work and research are really important in the long run, so its better that you do a bit of hard work up front to save yourself pain in the long run. Good luck, bon chance, and maybe take a look at the resources below for more assistance.

With any luck, this pair of articles will be something I revisit from time to time.

Resources

###Twitter###

  • @TribeHR: Links to a lot of good articles on hiring and HR in general.

###Job Search Sites / Tools###

###Blogs###

  • MonsterWorking.com: Provides a ton of tips on the job market and job search
  • Lifehacker Job Search: Really cool tricks and tools for more effective job search
  • Fan to Pro: Are you a geek? Lots of details about successful fan-to-pro transitions and other interesting information

###Books###

Nicholas Terwoord

A self-titled software developer, "code archaeologist" (whatever that means), and professional geek. Spends too much of his time coming up with new projects, and not enough time working on them. Likes video games, board games, anime, manga, and Pathfinder / Dungeons and Dragons (GOTO: Line #1 - Geek).

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