By: James Warda
Ok, so who am I and why did I write this?
Most important, I’m a former job seeker. So, believe me, I get it. I understand what you’re probably feeling because I’ve felt it. I know that daily battle between panic and patience, between knowing I had valuable experience to wondering if I would ever get an interview again. But I made it through. And so will you.
After my job search, my job networking group leader asked me to write a one-page “lessons learned” document about what worked and didn’t work for me in the job search. He asked that of everyone from the group who “landed” (got a new job). Little did he know, though, who he was asking.
See, I’m a writer. And a speaker. And a bit of a ham. Which means I often have a lot to say. And that’s how one page turned into what is now 25.
Of course, these are my lessons learned. You’ll obviously have your own. Some may be the same, but many will likely be different. The reason I’m sharing mine here is because the job search is hard, one of the hardest things many of us will experience because it gets right at our sense of worth, identity and belonging. And, because it’s that hard, we all need to help each other through it – even when we’re back working, as I am now.
So, with that, I wish you the strength, peace and courage we all need along the way.
Let’s get started.
1. Take a breath. When you’re first out of your job, especially if it was involuntary, take a breath and take at least a week, if not a bit longer, to process what happened. Some people dive right in to updating resumes and LinkedIn profiles, while getting hit by a “firehose” of well-meaning advice and instruction. But it’s important to take care of our mental health throughout the job search, be in the present moment as much as possible, acknowledge the emotional side of the “journey,” especially on the most difficult days, and refresh and reset as needed.
(Special Note: The job search holds gifts. Ok, I know that’s almost crazy to say when you’re in a job search, especially on the darkest days when college loans need to be paid and severance is running low, but believe me, it does. You won’t likely see these gifts until you’re back working but, once you are, I’m guessing you’ll agree with me. More on this later in the “After You Land” section.)
2. Passion and purpose. While you’re taking that breath, think about what you most want to do. You don’t often get the chance to do that. In fact, you probably haven’t since you were younger. So, take full advantage. We do well what we do out of passion.
3. Dumbledore knew. Don’t be afraid to take some chances throughout the job search. Experiment. Reinvent yourself. Wear a new hat or hairdo. Start wearing a monocle and bowtie. As Albus Dumbledore said to Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." Choose often and choose well. And, if you don’t choose well, guess what? You’ll soon have the chance to choose again.
4. So, what do you do? Many of us identify ourselves very strongly with our jobs. We see them as a way to be employed (used) for a purpose ─ to the point where they become part of the fabric of who we are. Don’t believe me? Well, when you go to a party and meet someone new, what’s typically the first question they ask you after they ask for your name? And how do you feel answering that question when you’re not working? If you’re like I was, it’s probably a mixture of embarrassment and confusion. To counteract that feeling, especially of not being prepared for the question, prepare a brief answer ahead of time that feels natural for you. And, in that answer, with people you know well, don’t hesitate to build in a “Call to Action,” asking them to keep their eye out for opportunities. If you’re talking to a relatively new acquaintance, you’ll probably want to keep it to a more generic, “I’m looking for my next role,” or whatever feels right and comfortable for you.
5. Campfires aren’t the only good place for stories. Learn how to tell your story well. Over time, as you continue to update your SARS (Situation-Action-Results) statements on your resume, to network and to do interviews, etc., you’re going to get crisper and crisper in your story. The easier and more naturally you can tell it, the more likely the person you’re talking to will get it. And a cool thing will happen as you continue to tweak your story. You’ll begin to realize just how much you’ve done and can do, and how cool you really are.
6. 20 People, 20 Suggestions. As mentioned above, in your job search, a lot of people are going to be coming to you with a lot of advice. For example, if you give your resume to 20 people, you’re going to get 20 different perspectives – with some having more expertise in resumes, interviews and LinkedIn profiles than others. So, take in the advice you want, understand the background and expertise level of those giving the advice, process it, apply the general themes from the feedback you’ve heard, and then don’t forget to give it that all-important “gut check.” Because, after all, it’s your job search. You’re now a company of one, needing to make the final decisions on your branding, values, strategies, priorities, measurements and, most important, how you’ll use your most valuable resource: time
7. Don’t isolate. Find networking and accountability groups in your area and go to them! Also go to job fairs. Go on informational interviews. Find your nearest career center and meeting (often in community centers, religious organizations), etc. Remember, if you’re sitting home on your computer, you likely aren’t going to find a job that way, you won’t be meeting as many new people as you could, and your body may be screaming for sunlight and exercise. Now, granted, you might be able to catch up on your daytime TV, but that’s not always a good thing, SpongeBob SquarePants notwithstanding.
8. Finding a job shouldn’t cost an arm, let alone a leg. Be mindful of what you pay for in the job search, besides the necessary stuff (e.g., business cards, online portfolio, interview clothes, etc.). With most of the things you need (e.g., resume and LinkedIn profile reviews, mock interviewing, coaching), you’ll likely be able to find them for free through kind and generous volunteers in your local job/career center or networking meeting. This is especially important at a time when funds are likely limited.
9. Well worth it. With that said, there are some career coaches and others who are worth the money, if you’re comfortable with the price and you know they are good at what they do. Obviously, just be careful and get references and look for testimonials. I’ve personally met several coaches, both in-person and on LinkedIn, who were very helpful to my getting back to work.
10. Watch out for scams. Job seekers can be a particularly vulnerable group whose information is often very visible, and who are known to need a job. They may also be feeling a little desperate, as I was the longer my search continued. So, if you ever have a gut feeling about a company or person, just put their name in Google, along with the keywords “scam,” “fraud” and “complaint,” and see what comes up. This also works well when people you don’t know send you emails with subject lines like, “Hey, we’ve got a job for you!” Of course, this isn’t a full-proof method but it’s a good place to start and can help you not waste time, while protecting yourself and your information.
This approach won’t obviously guard you against flurries of emails from more legitimate companies that always seem to be looking for someone to put up their own cash to start an insurance agency or retail franchise. But, again, it will help rule out the impostors.
@Copyright 2019-2020, James R. Warda. All rights reserved.
If you're interested in reading more from James Warda's latest book "48 Lessons Learned in Job Search: How to Find a Job and Yourself Along the Way" email firstname.lastname@example.org.