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Key Precepts of a Successful Job Search

precept >noun           1 a general rule regulating behavior or thought. 

2 a writ or warrant.

3 Brit. an order issued by one local authority to another specifying the rate of tax to be charged on its behalf.
-ORIGIN Latin praeceptum 'something advised'.

How you think about your job search is just as critical to the success of your job search as the actual implementation of it.

Effective marketing tools such as resumes, marketing plans, and other job search tools are essential to your success.  But how you think about your search is just as important, if not more so, in landing a position that you really want
Put bluntly, . . . how you think about your search can make it or break it!  The ways you think about your search influence what you do and how you go about doing it.  Whether it’s the time you put into writing a resume, or preparing for a networking meeting, interview, or job offer negotiation, I call this critical thinking the Key Precepts of a Successful Job Search. 

A precept is a guideline or a general rule that generally applies and if followed, keeps you on track.  Most disciplines have precepts that keep folks who work in the discipline moving forward.  Job seeking, or career transition, is no exception.  It has precepts, or general rules, that if followed keep you moving forward, moving in the right direction, and ultimately get you to your goal . . . a new job or successful transition. 

And here's the payoff!  While certainly there are exceptions to any rule or guideline, for most job seekers adhering to the following precepts will:
(1) Keep you on track,
(2) Prevent your search from derailing, and
(3) Help you obtain a better job or role faster.
What are those things that can help?  Read on.

■ Precept 1:  Finding a job is a job.
A lot of job seekers waste a lot of time, energy, and resources trying to find a way around this precept.  They look for short-cuts, ways to off-load the work, and magic pills.  They spend thousands of dollars on products and services that claim:
  • Using our method gets 30 job offers in 60 days.  
  • Not getting interviews?  Let us write your perfect resume.  Only to find that that one “perfect” resume misses the boat for most jobs because today’s competitive job market requires you to customize each submission.
The hard truth is this:  Finding a job is a job.  Your job.  And if you’re an out-of-work job seeker, it can and should become your full-time job.         

Finding a job takes work.  If you can bite this bullet, and really get this point, your path to your next job will be less fraught with frustration.  Finding a job today:
  • Takes learning about the “job of finding a job” in today’s competitive employment marketplace.
  • Requires gaining skill in the techniques of presenting yourself to the employment marketplace, and marketing yourself strategically.
  • Takes learning how to talk about yourself as the solution to a prospective employer’s needs, and them negotiating the best deal!
It is a tough job – one that’s not going to be done at quitting time!  As a fully committed job seeker, you’re going to find yourself at  . . .
·       Evening meetings
·       Early morning coffees
·       Weekend get-togethers and more.
All these meetings offer opportunities to broaden your network, meet potential hiring managers, meet employees from your target companies, and sell yourself.  These activities add to your already-busy work week that has included targeting firms, sending marketing letters, meeting with your network contacts, sending applications, attending professional events, participating in your job search work team, and following up, following up, following up!   Finding a job is a job.

■ Precept 2:  Your Career Management is YOUR responsibility. 
No one else’s!  You alone hold the ultimate responsibility for managing your career and for its success or otherwise.  The fact is no one else holds your career as near and dear as you do. 

Way too often job seekers seek to offload responsibility for their search to some recruiter, head hunter, employment agency, career services firm, job search coach, family member, friends, or professional network contact.  They look to some outside source to “get me a job.”  And even if some outside source is successful in getting you a job, chances are that it will be less of a fulfilling opportunity that one that you planned and strategized, sought out, and negotiated.

Certainly, folks can help.  That is what capitalizing upon your network, and continuing to develop it, is all about.  You will want to call upon recruiters, head hunters, employment agencies, career services firms, job search coaches, family members, friends, and/or network contacts.  All these people can play an important role.

But, just as you would not want to turn over responsibility for your financial well-being, or for the rearing of your child to an outside source, don’t turn over responsibility for your career.  Why?  Only you have real and ultimate insight into your goals and aspirations as well as your constraints and limitations.  Yes, seek advice; no question that this is critical to entering the employment marketplace.  But you, and you alone, are in the best position to call the shots for management of your career.

■ Precept 3:  Think positively.
Attitude is an important component of a job search.  A positive attitude will get your further faster.  A negative one will have the opposite effect.

No one wants to meet or spend too much time with a down, negative, or sarcastic person.  That goes for whiners and complainers too.   Despite their best efforts to help, after a while, network contacts, friends, and family members grow weary and wary of hearing it, and will flee when they get the opportunity!  Even job search coaches have been known to exit after a while if the job seeking client refuses to stop the pity-party!

Certainly, you may have good reason to feel down.  If you are on the market due to loss of a job whether due to circumstances beyond your control, such as downsizing or outsourcing of your function, that is a tough situation for anyone to handle.  Or, if you lost your job due to circumstances within your control, such as poor performance, that’s still tough to manage.  Or, it may be that you still hold a job but have decided it’s time to look for a new one. 

In any of these aforementioned cases, job searching can be demanding and/or difficult, and it’s natural to feel down, depressed, sad, or angry at times.  And, for a while, your situation can engender people’s sympathy.  However, they’ll grow tired of hearing it, so don’t make a habit of it!

Don’t make a habit of showing your negative emotions to your network, those who can help you move on to your next position.  It’s an easy trap to fall into if you are not on guard.  Instead learn how and train yourself to appropriately – positively – interact. 

As you interact with your network, prospects from target companies, and “head hunters:”
1.         Learn how to provide a good, succinct explanation of why you’re on the market, along with a statement about your objective.  It will go a long way toward securing their interest and help.
2.         Celebrate the small wins and keep your network apprised of your “small wins” or successes that you achieve along the way.  It will secure their support and show you to be a positive, optimistic achiever.  The small wins such as scheduling a networking meeting with a prominent person in your field, receiving a response from a target employer that they are interested in you, or securing an interview are important steps in the right direction.  These are all accomplishments!  Celebrate!
3.         Develop the ability to take challenges in stride.  Seeking advice from your network about how to manage a job search challenge is fine.  In fact, it may be a way to gain their buy in of you as a great prospect as you seek, listen to, and then act on their suggestions.  However, that is a fry cry from whining about the challenge or obstacle. 
Developing a positive attitude will get you further faster.  Make a habit of it!

■ Precept 4:  Think strategically.
The more strategic you are in your search . . . the better.  Think strategically as you plot your job search course. 

Job seekers rarely achieve success by happenstance, certainly not in today’s competitive job market.  Job seekers more typically find success after following a course that leads them to ferret out opportunities, and then pursuing these opportunities in a smart, i.e., strategic, way.  While you can’t know the exact place your job search will end up, or how long it will take, you do know a couple things that can guide you on your course.  You generally, although not always, know the type of position or role that you would like to have, or you can find out through assessment of your capabilities. 

So, in thinking strategically about your search, identifying the type of work you would like to do and role(s) you think you would like to have is your first step.  The role(s) is your destination goal.  Being able to express your destination goal(s) allows your network to make relevant suggestions, and later enables you to make a solid argument in front of an employer as to why you are the best candidate “for their job.”  Being “unfocused” does the opposite.  Your network contacts may feel at a loss as to how to help you, and a more focused candidate’s argument can have great appeal to an employer who is looking for the right fit!

Figuring out the strategy to achieve your goal is your second step.   Ask yourself:  What industries house this type of role and what companies employ them?  Who can I talk to to find out more?  

These two steps will:
  • Keep you on track.
  • Help you figure out what is a good use of your time, energy, and resources and –  what is not – every day!
No shotgunning!  While some job seekers still think that sending out resumes “helter-skelter” to anyone and everyone – referred to as “shotgunning” –  is the fastest route to their next role, it is not!  In fact, experience shows just the opposite.  As the name implies, sending out a round of shot and hoping it will hit the target is far, far less effective, than taking careful aim at a target and strategically taking action to hit the target, or in the case of job search, to get the job you want.

Identifying the work you really want to do and role you really want to have is worth the time and effort you spend up front, early in your search.  Having a clear and focused answer to the question: “What do you want to do?’ will enable you to figure out the answer to the next question: “What do I have to do to get there?”

■ Precept 5:  Don’t settle:  A job . . . any job WON’T do.
This reminds me of an old saying: “Out of the frying pan, into the fire.”  Another way of saying “a job, any job will do.” 

As job searches stretch on, and job seekers are unsuccessful in landing a job they really want, many begin to think about settling.  As frustration, depression, and even desperation set in, the idea that “a job . . .any job will do” becomes more palatable.   It’s a temptation that is better resisted.

The problem with this rationale is that while it may work for some, for many people a job . . . .the work they do . . . is an important aspect of their self-identity.  It DOES MATTER what they do with their hours, days, weeks, and years on the job.  Burn-out often results from working in disharmony with yourself, but an even bigger problem is that these “a job, any job” types of hires don’t work out in the longer term.  The problem that led the job seeker to leave their previous position is replicated in the second one, and a second job loss occurs. 

So, don’t settle.  It’ll cost you in the long run.  Instead, re-visit and reassess your goal to ensure it is still valid for you.  If not, adjust it.  For help in doing so, turn to your network advice givers for both advice and encouragement. 

■ Precept 6:  WHO you know does NOT get you the job.
That’s right . . . Who you know does not get you the job.  However, who you know helps.

Too often, job seekers lament their lack of success in finding a new job, saying that getting a job “is based on who you know.”  Wrong!  Incorrectly expressed.

More correctly stated, the concept is this: “Who you know gets you the opportunity to demonstrate what you know, and what you know is what gets you hired!”

Certainly, “who you know” is important to a job seeker’s success.  It can open doors to opportunity.  It enables you to learn:
 (1) What is needed in a particular career path,
 (2) If you possess it (skill, certification, education, experience)
 (3) Who is buying it (i.e., hiring it), and
 (4) Possibly receive a referral to talk with someone or submit your resume and cover letter to someone inside a firm that has a need for your qualification. 
So don’t fall for this myth!  “Who you know gets you a job” is a popular misconception that job seekers often resort to when frustration sets in as they see others finding employment while search goes on and on and on. 

A better tack to take is to recognize the value of a network for information gathering and referrals and then set about interacting with and continuing to develop your network and your network relationships.  Your network is an invaluable resource.  It can lead you to critical information, opportunities, and the people who possess these opportunities.  In short, your network, i.e., “who you know,” can lead you to the gold!

■ Precept 7:  You’re in sales.
“Ever been in sales?’’ No?      “Well you are now!”

If you are looking for a new job, new role, expansion or contraction of your current role, new industry, or venturing off onto a more independent path such as with a contracting or consulting career, you are in sales.  

And you are selling the most important product or service you will ever sell    YOU!

Job seeking is pure-and-simple a sales process.  If you have ever sold products or services, the process will be more familiar and a little easier.  If you have not, it is not an insurmountable slope.  It is a set of skills that you can master with the following understandings of how to sell yourself in the employment marketplace.
1.         First and foremost, when selling your product or service to a prospective employer, understand that you are selling or offering your skills and capabilities to your customer as a solution to their needs. 

2.         Develop an understanding of the customer relationship.  When it comes to the customer, it’s all about the “WIIFM, - What’s In It For Me, the customer?"   In a job search, your customer is your prospective employer who wants to know “what you can do for them and not the other way round.  It’s a key point that many job seekers miss!

3.         Recognize, the earlier in your search the better, that you are in sales and that you are selling your capabilities to your future employer for their use.   It’s all about them – their business, their needs and wants, their goals, and their products and processes.  This is yet another key point that many job seekers miss.

Ask yourself:  “What can I do to help Mr. or Ms. Employer be successful?”  Your answer is what you want to communicate with prospects.  Figuring out the answer before you interview, and learning how to express it in interviews, cover letters, and thank you letters will put you ahead in the game against your competition.

So, recognize the fact that when you are job seeking, you are in sales and on the “market.” 

And don’t be swayed by any negative impressions you carry about sales as a profession.  Salespeople in all industries are the lynch pin that make things happen; they:
(1) Ferret out needs for their products and services,
(2) Sell them to the customer, and
(3) generate income or revenue.  
That’s exactly the role you want to play as an effective salesperson of your own services.

■ Precept 8:  It’s all about them.  
Said another way, “It’s not about you!  Consider this KEY POINT very seriously.  It is where sales are made or lost!

While this precept is technically a component of Precept 7, it is so important to your success in landing a job that it is a point that deserved a precept of its own.  Too often, candidates for jobs lose them to a competitor who gets it!  That means the successful candidate understands that what is important to the buyer is what you can do for them.  Remember, you are offering, or selling your capabilities to a customer or buyer, i.e., your prospective employer, who has a need for your capabilities and is willing to pay you a salary to utilize them. 

What is “about you” is understanding your role.  Your role, as a good salesperson, is to uncover and learn about your customer’s needs and demonstrate that you are the best candidate to fulfill them.

■ Precept 9:  Hiring IS subjective.
Hiring is subjective . . . critically subjective.   There is a distinction.

Not that long ago, I got a comment from a job seeker who was lamenting the hiring process.  She wrote that hiring is so subjective: “Those who hold the keys are extremely subjective and landing a position is based on who you know.” 

She is not alone; other job seekers have similarly complained that the hiring team is subjective in their decision.  My comment, is “Yes, Virginia, . . . they are.”  But, there is an important  distinction to be made between the hiring teams’ just hiring “someone they know,” and hiring a candidate that in their analysis is the best candidate for the job.

Hiring today generally is done by a team.  This can include the internal recruiter(s), hiring manager, interviewing panel(s), external “head hunter,” etc.  It is the team’s job to find the candidate who brings the best set of “skills, abilities, experience, education, attitude, aptitude, and fit” to help the employer solve the problems that the person being hired needs to solve. 

So yes, it is a subjective decision, made generally a team of people with the “skills, abilities, experience, education, aptitude, and attitude” to identify, screen, evaluate, and ultimately make the decision to hire the best candidate who can
(1) Do the job,
(2) Fit in, and
(3) Stay awhile. 

Hiring mistake are costly mistakes.  They cost the hiring employer both the actual cost of hiring as well as lost productivity.  The hiring team does not want to make a mistake, and so brings their best experience and judgment to the task of hiring the best candidate for the job.

Understanding and following the Key Precepts of a Successful Job Search can go a long way in helping you manage a more productive and less frustrating job search.  I hope you find them helpful. 

Are there others that you have followed and found to be helpful?  I’d love to hear from you.

Wishing you a successful job search,



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