I've lost count of the number of frustrated job seekers I've spoken with over the past month. From the California coast to the suburbs of London, these seekers' full-fledged job search efforts, which span between 3 and 18 months, have been tightly focused on the job boards. With such a plethora of online job boards, it's not hard to understand why. Job postings abound, whether on the employer's career site, third-party job boards, job matching tools, or job search aggregators. Though 12 million job seekers are competing for 4 million jobs posted online, surveys show that employee referrals remain the number one source of hire.
I know first hand, as both a Recruiter and job seeker in today's highly saturated job market, that a click and send approach is not the most effective route to finding your ideal position. While 10% of my job board submissions have resulted in an initial phone screening, not one resulted in a face to face interview. Not a one.*
Which prompted me to take my job search off line. Last week, instead of waking up at 2am to check Indeed alerts so I could be in the first batch of applicants for newly posted jobs, I boycotted the boards. I made lunch dates with two former co-workers (one gainfully employed, the other also actively searching). From those two separate and organic meetings came two unique leads. Those two leads, which I followed up on within hours, turned into real life interviews this week.
So let's see. Within 7 days, 4 hours of good conversation resulted in 2 meetings with hiring authorities. Meanwhile, countless hours of entering my contact information and job history repeatedly into online applicant systems over 3 months resulted in 0 interviews.
My takeaway? If you want different results, approach your search differently.
You're probably thinking, "But isn't the job search a numbers game? Aren't I increasing my chances by applying to at least 40-50 jobs per week?" No and no. The Lottery is a numbers game. Your career search is a strategy that must be purposefully planned, rigorously fine-tuned, and carefully executed.
The 7-day Challenge:
Take a break from Indeed, Career Builder, Monster, and whatever else you're using. Over the next 7 days, commit to the following 7 tasks.
1. Schedule 2-3 catch ups.
Make a list of 2-3 people from each of your past companies who you've remained in contact with over the years, but haven't touched base with in a while. From that list, identify the top 5 people you'd like to schedule catch-up meetings over the next few weeks. Ask if they can carve an hour out of their schedule this week for lunch/coffee. If they're on a super tight time schedule (like my good friend who is the mother of 3 and full time HR Manager), simply send a concise e-mail asking for their partnership in your search. Once you schedule the meetings (which can be no- or low-cost), your primary purpose is to catch up, laugh, and listen. Easy and fun, right? Be helpful. Find out if you can assist with anything that's going on in their lives - babysitter referrals, help setting up a Twitter account, finding a good plumber. Anything. The fact you are looking for work needn't be the focus of the meeting, but when it comes up, ask for resources, insight or ideas that may prove to be beneficial.
2. Utilize your Facebook profile to solicit help from friends.
This will work best if your Facebook list consists of personal contacts and your LinkedIn database consists of professional contacts. Let your Facebook friends (or a select group of friends) know you're looking for introductions to a person in their network - a mentor, valued adviser, or former client. Ask if anyone knows of someone that could benefit from the work you do/skills you provide. "Know anyone looking for resume writing services? I'm available at a discount this week!" You can update your status as you get leads and shout out those that helped out. "Thanks so much to John for introducing me to the PR Manager at XYZ. We're meeting for coffee this week! If you haven't inboxed me the name of your favorite teacher/boss/mentor, it's not too late! I'm still working my network until I land the right position! Thanks for your support!" You can tailor the messages to reflect your personal style, but the point is, if this is your true friend base, people will be more than willing to assist.
3. Meet someone new.
Attend a Meetup function this weekend in your city. It could be a book club or a walking tour of your city. Choose something you consider fun. It doesn't have to be a "professional networking" event. Attend an alumni event or volunteer. If you make at least one genuine connection with someone, exchange contact information. Let them know you're in a career transition and that you'd love to learn more about what they do. Follow up with them and begin developing a true networking partnership that will carry you through this job search and beyond. Your goal is to listen, provide help where you can and glean knowledge/resources regarding your search.
4. Revamp your resume.
If you have not been getting calls from your resume submissions, consider having a professional re-write your resume. Check with your local community based organization or Career One Stop for free advice. I'm here as a resource as well if you need tips and suggestions --> firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Partake in a mock interview.
Have you been receiving a lot of initial calls but not getting past the phone screen? Maybe you need some practice in coming across as polished and confident. Find a list of interview questions online and ask a trusted friend (ideally an HR professional) to spend 20 minutes (via Skype or in-person) asking you questions and recording your responses (audio or video). After your session, ask them for their honest feedback. Watch the footage again and find 2 things you did well and 2 things you could improve. If your finances allow, contact a Job Search Strategist who is also a Certified Professional Resume Writer. You will find plenty of options on Twitter or via a Google search.
6. Register with a temp agency.
Schedule a face-to-face meeting with a reputable agency. If your typing/Word/Excel skills are rusty, brush up before you go. If you are a mid-career or professional and general office work is not a viable option, consider registering with an industry specific industry agency that can find you work during this interim period (i.e., attorney temp work, substitute teaching). Follow up weekly or as often as required by the agency to stay on their radar. Temp agencies are dealing with far more candidates than positions to fill, so it's important to be proactive and consistent.
7. Exercise for 30 minutes a day.
Load up your iPod and take a brisk walk to start each day. If the weather is inclement, consider swimming in an indoor heated pool or taking a free fitness class at a local church or gym. Work out at home or download my favorite free app, Nike Training Club. If you have the time and energy, extend your workout to an hour a day - 30 minutes at the beginning of the day to energize you for the day ahead, and 30 minutes at the end of the day to reward yourself for your diligent efforts. It's amazing the clarity you'll gain after a challenging workout.
By participating in the 7-day challenge and taking your focus off of the job boards, you are ensuring that your time spent online is used primarily for (a) gathering information (b) setting up meetings (c) e-mailing actual viable leads directly. Scouring the boards at all hours of the day and night should take a backseat during this 7-day period. I know it will be tough to pull yourself away from the drudgery of applying for jobs online, but the boards will be there when you get back.
If you're ready and willing to commit to this seven day hiatus, I'd love to hear about the highlights/challenges you experience along the way. Extend your job board boycott as long as you need to. Slowly make perusing the job boards a weekly task vs. a daily one. As long as you're making real life connections, you're gaining momentum and making measurable progress. Networking is a necessity, so get out there and shake some hands!
*This statistic does not include LinkedIn, which I don't view as a job board, but a digital Rolodex.
Photo #2 Source: r3c.co.uk
Maisha Cannon is a Senior Recruiter and Researcher committed to introducing employers to talent that will enhance and grow their businesses. Over the span of her 15 year career in Human Resources, Maisha has filled over 1,000 positions, and has coached hundreds of candidates on resume writing, interviewing skills, and career planning. She spends her free time blogging, engrossed in social media, and singing along to the thousands of songs in her iPod.