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Mounting an Effective Job Search

If you have completed our Career Assessment Questionnaire, you have focused your thinking, and have one or two specific types of positions in mind for your job search. The information on this page will help you to understand, and deal successfully with the job market.

The job market may be the largest market in the country. Each of us enters it a number of times during our lives - as a buyer, or seller, or both. Hundreds of thousands of us change jobs each year. These changes may be self-initiated, or they may result from a variety of external causes - mergers, acquisitions, poor organization performance, reduced funding, new organizational strategy, technological changes, economic recession, personality conflicts, transfer of a spouse, etc.

It is disturbing for the job-seeker to find that this huge market is poorly organized, and that dealing with it can be extremely frustrating. Sometimes, part of the problem is the job-seeker's own lack of knowledge about the way the market operates, and which functions are performed by each of the major players. Lets dispel some of the myths, and develop the tools and strategies to find your great opportunity.

The employment market

Job ads

On online job boards, in your local newspaper, or in special interest publications, ads are the most visible medium in the job market. Most people begin their search by responding to ads, and most people find the process formidable. Only a very small percentage of your responses to ads are likely to produce any result at all. Not even a "turn-down" letter.

Understand the following points about ads:

  • They probably represent about 20% of the available job opportunities at any given time.

  • They are frequently misleading, or designed to convey only the most attractive aspects of the position.

  • They may advertise a vacancy that doesn't really exist.

  • They may solicit something else under the guise of a job or career (e.g. franchisees, investment capital, silent partners, multilevel marketing schemes).

  • They often attract an enormous number of responses from grossly unsuitable candidates, which makes it even tougher for the suitable candidate to gain visibility.

  • The job title is often misleading, or it implies a level or responsibilities senior to the actual position.

    [Note: At CharityVillage, we take care to ensure that only real openings are advertised.]

Employment agencies / executive search firms

A variety of labels apply here: executive recruiters, placement agencies, head hunters, and so on. While they go about their work in very different ways, one thing is common to all of these kinds of organizations: they work on assignments on behalf of employers.

Typically, the employer will indicate a requirement to fill a particular position, and the recruiter (or recruiters) will cast around to locate suitable candidates.

Understand the following points about recruiters:

  • It is estimated that agencies and search firms represent, at most, 10% of available job opportunities.

  • The recruiter is not there to find you a job. He/she is paid to find candidates for client employers.

  • An assignment is usually delegated to a particular "consultant" within the firm. They can range from superbly competent to hopelessly inexperienced and inadequate, and from caring to callous.

  • Most agencies specialize to some extent, by industry group and/or by level. Try to find those that fill positions in your field, at your level.

  • The consultant may screen you for suitability by means of a telephone conversation, an interview, a background check, or an online search.

  • You will receive a reply directing you to an interview with the employer only when, and if, you appear to be one of the best candidates for a current assignment. This is called "making the short list."

Relocation consultants / career counselors

Here again, diversity is rampant. There are counselors operating from their basements, and others located behind mahogany doors in the high-rent district. As there is no licensing or regulatory authority that oversees these operations, the quality and range of services will vary greatly.

Some firms deal only with executives who have been dismissed by one of their corporate clients. Others deal exclusively with private individuals. Still others serve both markets. Some are attached to a social agency or have a religious affiliation. Others operate for profit in the private sector. Quality of service is based principally upon the competence of the particular counselor with whom you become involved, and the resources of the firm.

Understand the following points about Relocation Consultants and Career Counselors:

  • Their principle roles are to help people focus their careers (Career Assessment) and organize a job search. Sometimes you can select just what you need from a menu of services.

  • You don't necessarily get better results by paying more. High fees don't always correlate with high effectiveness, and may cover luxuries like a private office that you don't really need. Consider the counselor's own credibility and "chemistry" with you, the quality of the information systems and resources available, the comprehensiveness of the support services, the degree of personalized attention, and the flexibility to choose those services that you need.

  • Beware the one-size-fits-all approach. No one package is suited for everyone. Beware of fees tied to your income level. Ask the hard questions ---How long will you be entitled to use the service without further charges? Who will be handling your case? What are the components of the program? Is it a group or individualized program? Can you use the facilities at any time, or must you make an appointment? Will you be charged for postage, stationery, photocopies, secretarial services?

  • Don't be surprised if the person you're chatting with turns out to be a salesperson, not a counselor. If this happens, ask to meet the counselor with whom you would be working.

  • Beware of extravagant claims and promises to work miracles. There is no magic wand. A career change is hard work, and you'll do most of it, whether or not you seek help. The counselor can only facilitate, provide resources, and supply information and guidance.

The corporate placement person

There are lots of titles here, too: Personnel Specialist, Human Resources Manager, Staffing Officer, etc. Sometimes they use the services of an external placement or search consultant, and sometimes they handle the entire process themselves. In smaller organizations, this is often an occasional function performed by the Executive Director or an administrative staff member. The principal function is to screen out unsuitable applicants, and to present a manager with a "short list" of top candidates who will probably receive interviews. To do this, the placement person may conduct preliminary in-person or telephone interviews and do online searches.

The resume services

Resume services can be helpful in polishing your information and presenting it in a professional manner. When choosing a service, be sure to look for Certified Resume Coaches and members of the Professional Association of Resume Writers.

The hidden job market

This expression is thrown around a lot by career counselors, executive search people, and others involved in the job market. It is widely believed that up to 70% of the positions available at any time fall into this category.

But what is this market, and why is it hiding? Well, it's not as mysterious as it sounds. The hidden job market is comprised of positions for which there is no advertised vacancy. These positions can become available in either of two ways.

The first, and most common, way is as a result of some upcoming change in an organization --- expansion, acquisition, new product line or program, new technology, new markets, reorganization, promotions, transfers, etc. A new opening will be created. It hasn't been advertised yet. It may not even be clearly defined. But it is coming, and there is someone in the organization who knows it's coming.

The second way that these positions arise are as a result of problems. Remember that old chestnut that says, "One person's problem is someone else's opportunity?" Every organization, no matter how successful, has problems. Now, if your organization had a problem that was costing you money or time or customers or public support, and you became aware of someone who had the know-how to solve that problem, what would you do? Right! You'd create a job for that person. Probably immediately.

Obviously, the keys to opening these hidden doors are knowledge of the organizations involved, and contact with the right individuals within those organizations. If you do your homework, you may be able to anticipate their changes and identify their problems with a fair degree of accuracy.

All of this, of course, requires a very creative approach to the job search, and some hard work. But we must remember that one third of today's jobs didn't even exist ten years ago, and new ones are being created every day.

Tapping into this hidden job market is very much a matter of being in the right place at the right time. That makes it a numbers game, but a somewhat selective one. The idea here is to identify the organizations that would likely be a fit for you. That means those that are active in your field, are mounting programs or planning projects that could use you, are expanding product or service lines, licensing new technology, launching new ventures, creating a new department, replacing retired personnel, and so on.

The target list of organizations can come from a number of sources - tips from insiders, newspaper articles, trade and professional journals, blogs, updates on social media like Facebook and Twitter, directories, friends in the industry or profession, etc. Your contact should be with the most senior executive in the part of the organization that is involved.

The objective is to connect with the person who knows what openings are coming up in that area, and to intercept the opportunity before it becomes advertised, thereby getting a jump on the competition.

Creating an effective resume

A marketing approach

If you still think that a resume is just a history of where you've been and what you've been doing, it's time for a change. This is truly a marketing program, and you need a powerful promotional piece to tell employers where you're going, and your qualifications for getting there.

The sole purpose of a resume is to obtain an interview. Therefore, you must create enough interest in the prospective buyer (the employer) that he/she will want to test drive the product (you).

Making it to the short list

Let's think about what is happening in the employer's office on the day that your résumé arrives. Life is busy as usual, filled with meetings, telephone calls, interruptions, and problems. In addition to all of the usual things Ms. Brown has to do today, she has a stack of replies to her recent employment ad.

Brown wishes this pile of paper would go away so that she can get back to doing her job. But she takes a deep breath and wades into it. By the time she gets to number 5, she's spending about 10 seconds on each one. They all look pretty much the same --- chronological histories of job titles, dates, responsibilities. Boring stuff. Out of 75 Résumés, she selects 5 for further review, and the rest go into the waste basket. One of the 5 is yours.

How did yours make it to the small pile? Because you caught Brown's interest quickly by giving her a quick overview of your qualifications and some insights into your Future, and you did it in the first half of the first page (which is all that most employers will read before dispatching you to the trash, or placing you on the small pile).

You also avoided a tone of desperation, even though you may be feeling that way. People are not chosen because they need a job more than someone else. They are hired for the contribution they can make to the organization.

Let's look at the format you used.

First - Who are you?

At the top of Page 1, state your name, abbreviations for your degrees and professional designations, your address, your telephone and fax numbers, and your e-mail address. You may also include your website address IF it is well designed, relevant to your career search, and presents you as a serious and competent professional. That's all.

Second - Your career objective

This is important. It is one brief paragraph that tells the reader:

What you want to do (type of work).

Where you want to do it (which industries, what location, what kinds of organizations?).

Where you want your career to go in the longer term.

    Now, you're probably thinking that this limits your options, that you might miss out on a possible opening that doesn't fall within these terms. You're right, and that's as it should be. If you try to be everything to everyone, you wind up being nothing to anybody.

    Remember Ms. Brown? She advertised for a Fund Raising Manager. The résumés headed for the landfill site indicated no Career Objective at all, or one that covered everything from Accounting to Association Management to Volunteer Relations. Some even mentioned Fund Raising, along with all the other things they could do.

    The small stack only contains replies from people who indicate a desire for a career in Fund Raising Management. That's what she advertised for, and that's what she needs. Brown figures that, if these other people don't see themselves as a Fund Raising Manager, then she probably won't see them that way either, so why waste the time?

    All of those folks who wanted to show employers how generalized they are, just succeeded in eliminating themselves from the competition.

    "But I am generalized," I can hear you saying. "there are several functions that I can perform competently. Why shouldn't I mention them all?"

    Good question. Here's the answer --- targeting. You can't get away with having just one version of your résumé, because every résumé or letter sent to any employer must speak directly to that employer and to the problem she/he is trying to solve.

    By the way, please leave out all that garbage about "challenging environments", "rewarding opportunities", and all of the other cliches that the rest of the crowd put in their résumés. Speak directly, clearly, and you will differentiate yourself from competitors.

    Third - Summary of qualifications

    Brown wants to know why you think you're a candidate for this job. Let's tell her. This section is a clear and concise overview of your principal qualifications. The idea here is to establish for the reader that you are qualified to achieve your career objective and to solve his/her problem.

    This 6 to 10 line paragraph should refer to the kinds of results, achievements, and accomplishments you have had in your career to date, keeping in mind Brown's problem. The reaction you want is "I must see this person." Most résumés are tossed into the waste basket at this point.

    Fourth - Record of accomplishment

    This is where you add colour to the picture. Here, you detail the various organizations you have worked with, and the major contributions you made to each of them.

    You want this to be organized in a way that enables the reader to journey through the information as easily as possible. Reverse-chronological order is best, beginning with your current (or most recent) position. For each previous employer, state the period of employment, the name of the organization, the position title you held, and a brief statement describing your responsibilities, followed by your major accomplishments in that position. Choose those most closely related to the position to which you are applying, and try to be quantitative wherever possible (e.g. cut costs by 20%, increased donations by $2 Million, reduced volunteer drop outs by 35%, and so on).

    Fifth - Other relevant data

    This section will vary, depending upon the kind of information you wish to emphasize, and the employer to whom the résumé is being sent. It may include additional information about your education, professional development, special honours, military commissions, public or community service, professional affiliations and memberships, awards, etc. Unrelated interests and hobbies are best omitted.

    Edit Ruthlessly

    Now, imagine that you are the employer who is receiving this résumé. Ask yourself how you would respond to the information, the way it is presented, and the style of language used.

    Revise, edit, eliminate extraneous information and generalities. Try to reduce it to 2 pages.

    A personal marketing strategy

    Identifying your targets

    What organizations are likely to offer the kinds of options you identified through our Career Assessment Questionnaire? Online search engines and the websites of professional and industry associations can help you narrow this down. Various directories are available in the reference section of your public library, and the staff are usually very helpful. You might start right here at CharityVillage.com by checking our Directories of Nonprofit Organizations and Professional Associations. Also use your own network of personal contacts.

    Your direct mail campaign

    You need to identify the right person to contact, usually whomever is in charge of the area in which you're interested. Again, search engines, corporate and professional association websites, and print directories can help here, or a call to the organization will get you the information you need.

    Write a brief covering letter to the Key Contact you have identified, and enclose your résumé. You will send these to advertised openings, and also to organizations that have not advertised a vacancy. There may be a change in the works, so don't wait until your competitors find out about it. Explain briefly in your covering letter the reasons you're interested in the organization, and the contributions you believe you can make to it. Mention that you will be calling in a few days to discuss this.

    Following up

    In 4 or 5 days, call the person to whom you have sent your résumé. Ask if she/he has received it. Suggest that you meet to discuss opportunities in the organization for you. Explain again your interest in the organization and what it's doing, and the contributions you feel you can make to it. If the response is negative, ask for suggestions of other organizations you should be contacting in this field.

    Registering with agencies and search firms

    Recognizing the factors discussed above with regard to these types of organizations, they will still be part of your marketing program. The approach here is similar to contact with employers. Send your letter and résumé. Then follow up.

    Using social media

    Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, personal blogs, and other social media can have either positive or negative effects on your job search results. Use social media to search for, and network with, others who share your professional interests, who work in the same industry, or who live in the same city, as well as to position yourself as a credible candidate. Some tips:

    • Move relationships up to more meaningful levels --- follow them on Twitter, friend them on Facebook or LinkedIn, meet them at real world events.

    • Upload an updated résumé to LinkedIn.

    • Get the word out to your Facebook friends. Consider forming a Facebook group as your own job hunt resource team. Keep everyone in the loop on your progress.

    • Do a Twitter search on the words “job search” to find others who are job hunting, then follow each other as an informal support group with a unique hashtag.

    • Become known through your comments and postings on blogs and discussion forums related to your sector or field of specialization. Position yourself as someone who has thoughtful and relevant ideas about your chosen field, and is willing to share your expertise with others.

    • Draw attention to the blog posts and updates of others with whom you wish to network.

    • Become known as as someone who posts useful content, rather than repetitive, annoying, self-promoting blurbs and trivial remarks.

    • Show that you’re accessible and engaged by responding quickly to inquiries and questions.

    • Be quick to give praise and say “thank-you” when it’s due.

    • Avoid overuse. A large number of daily updates, postings and tweets, especially during business hours, suggests a compulsion that may interfere with your job performance.

    • Avoid getting too personal about the details of your life. Keep updates on a professional level.

    • Avoid using foul language in your posts and comments.

    • Do not imply that you abuse alcohol or drugs.

    • Never attack or abuse colleagues, or post derogatory comments about them or your employers, past and present.

    • Do not post proprietary or privileged information about your employers, past or present. Prospective employers will assume you would do that to them, too.

    • Avoid online conflicts and prolonged arguments. You may be perceived as a “difficult” employee.

    • Do not re-post others’ content without attribution, or claim it as your own.

    • Be aware that controversial, political, or religious opinions and statements expressed in updates and profiles may deter some prospective employers.

    • Googling candidates’ names, and checking their Facebook pages, is now a standard part of the selection process for most companies, so do not post dirty jokes, revealing photos, or inappropriate videos that may create a negative impression.

    • Use your blog to post samples of your work, and otherwise to portray yourself as a competent, serious professional.

    • Don’t try to tell everything about yourself or show everything you’ve ever done. Focus on your very best stuff, and target it specifically at your market.

    • Do not appear to be desperate. This can only hurt your chances by scaring people away.

    • Provided you are observing the above guidelines, use your own name rather than a pseudonym or screen name. You deserve the credit.

    Improving your interview skills

    An interview should not be an inquisition. It should be a 2-way flow of information between 2 people who have something important to discuss, and who both wish to make a good decision.

    Anticipate the interviewer's questions and prepare concise answers that focus on your past accomplishments. Review typical questions that may be asked in interviews for managerial positions and non-management positions.

    Develop some questions that you will want answered. Practice interviews with your spouse or a friend. Ask for a critique. Make your mistakes at home rather than in the real interview where they can cost you a job.

    Try to be relaxed, and to develop rapport with the interviewer. Remember, if they don't like you, they probably won't hire you. Dress as though you already had the job. Follow up with a thank-you note.


    Record-keeping

    Keep your information up to date. For example, make notes about where you have sent your résumé, whom you have contacted by telephone or e-mail, what the response was, your interviews and your comments about them, your feelings about the organization and the interviewer, etc. Print hard copies of interesting ads on job boards before they are deleted, and keep them on file in case you are invited for an interview.

    Staying on track

    There is a need to set goals and strive to achieve them. Decide how many résumés you will send out each week; how many telephone contacts; how many agency contacts, etc. Then stick to it. If you have a program and you're on track, you're more likely to maintain momentum and self-confidence.

    Involving your family

    You need the support and understanding of your spouse or partner, and other family members. Tell them what you're doing. Ask for their insights and ideas. Get them to help with the research on organizations, and do practice interviews with them. Train them to answer the telephone in a businesslike manner, and to record the messages accurately.

    Plus...

    All correspondence should be well produced. Each letter should be an original, individually created using a word processing program , not photocopied with the recipient's name added in, and not hand written. Résumés may be photocopied, if necessary, but appearance and copy quality are important.

    Always attach a cover letter to your résumé when it is sent out.

    Don't send out more inquiries in any week than you can follow-up in the next week.

    Send thank-you letters immediately after interviews.

    Be nice to receptionists and administrative assistants. You may be working with them soon. In addition, the boss may ask them for their opinion of you.

    Be on time for appointments.

    Greet people by name, with a firm handshake and confident eye contact.


    Good Luck!