There is no shame in losing your job – it will likely happen to many of us at some point in our careers. Look at it as an exciting opportunity to take stock of your life and a rare chance to be more intentional about the next move in your career. In my current role as an executive coach for senior leaders, through my past role as a partner with a respected national executive search firm, and previously in my role as head of recruiting for a billion-dollar restaurant company, I have had the opportunity to interview thousands of job seekers around the country. These conversations have helped me develop an actionable list of best practices for those seeking new roles, which I hope you find useful.
As you can imagine in these volatile economic times, there is a sizable population of good people affected by corporate layoffs and downsizing. Also, there is always a group of passive job seekers who are seeking better career opportunities on their own initiative as well. Over the years, I have observed several characteristics about these individuals:
- Other than getting back to work or finding a better job, they are often unsure of what they really want from their careers or how to achieve their goals.
- Their personal networks have often been neglected while they pursued their careers, and they are often starting job searches without a sizable or accessible source of friends and business colleagues to ask for help.
- They don’t have resumes or what they currently have is not updated/presentable.
- They are inexperienced at interviewing.
- They have not kept current with hiring trends or growth industries.
- Effective use of social media in their job search is daunting to them.
- Networking may be awkward and difficult.
- Asking for job search assistance is often uncomfortable.
- For many, there is a strong sense of urgency to find a new job quickly due to financial challenges.
Although outplacement assistance is available to some job seekers, it is not a benefit all enjoy. Sometimes the outplacement assistance received by downsized employees is of questionable value and results in little more than an upgraded resume. Many people looking for jobs seek out professional career coaches or pay companies to market their resumes in order to find them jobs. There are certainly quality career coaches around, but they can often be expensive. Do your homework before personally engaging a career coach and make sure what they’re offering is truly what you need. Being out of work likely means you have finite financial resources, so spend your money wisely.
So, where does that leave a candidate in need of a job?
Quite simply, you need an effective game plan and a proven approach to job search. In my book LANDED! Proven Job Search Strategies for Today’s Professional, I share the insight and experiences I have gathered over the years on how to effectively begin and conduct an effective job search. There is no guarantee that a new job will be a direct result from these suggestions, but I can offer the unique perspective of someone who has interviewed thousands of job seekers and counseled hundreds of clients to gain helpful best practices and insight about what truly works.
The following information is a summary of the on-target strategies I have observed which I adapted from my book LANDED!, but you should always feel comfortable experimenting and thinking creatively when developing your own strategy for finding a new career. HELPFUL TIP: Effective job searches are completely dependent on your ability to build great relationships. These relationships need to be mutually beneficial, so remember to focus on the needs of others and not just your own. Visit my company website for more best practices on relationships and networking.
Phase I: Starting Your Search
Okay, you wish to leave your job, recently lost your job, (or you know you are going to lose it) and need to get moving on your search. Don’t panic! Also, don’t take two months off to consider your next move. You need to get started right away, the competition is tough and this economy can be difficult to navigate. In Phase 1 of the search, here are the most effective Best Practices:
- Remain positive! Negative thinking will slow down or derail your efforts if you are not careful.
- Make sure you collect the contact information of co-workers, clients, friends and anyone else who can help you with your search from your work computer before you exit. Record all this information in an Excel spreadsheet for future use.
- Ask for letters of recommendation from key leaders and co-workers in your company who know you best as soon as possible after you hear the news. If you are losing your job because of a layoff, I have observed that you can usually obtain these with little trouble. These letters will be helpful later during interviews.
- Ask business colleagues you are connected to on LinkedIn to write a recommendation on your profile. Your profile is one of the first places recruiters and potential employers look and these recommendations are valuable. Have a minimum goal of five LinkedIn recommendations for this exercise.
- Reach out to your network with a clear, positive e-mail message about your departure. It is appropriate to ask them to keep you apprised of any job leads and to share your resume in this email with a clear description of what you are seeking. Although time consuming, I encourage you to send individual emails to key people in your network and personalize each message to suit the recipient. Many of these are people you want to schedule a meeting with asap to discuss your search.
- Inquire about any contract or consulting work you can do for the company. Companies often lay off people, but still need their skills and expertise. Offering to work on special projects in a contractor/consultant role during your transition is appealing because it saves the company money (no benefits and reduced income are likely with this scenario) and it allows you to show continuous employment on your resume and continue generating critical cash flow while you look for a new job. Ask the question before you leave!
- Consider becoming a consultant on your own if there is potential work for you in the marketplace— it helps bridge the employment gap on your resume.
- Have you applied for other jobs within the company? There may be roles for which you are well suited. Don’t ignore this option.
- Develop a resume as soon as you hear the news. There are companies charging $200 up to $2,000 for this service and some of them are good, but many are not. You can research resume samples on Google and develop a good resume by yourself. If you are still not pleased with it, seek out a reputable firm. I suggest only working with resume experts who meet you in person and have a quantifiable track record of success.
- Leave on the very best of terms. You will need future references, referrals and other assistance from your former company. Don’t burn a bridge!
- Develop a marketing plan that will target industries and specific companies that fit your background. The information you need is readily available through Google, LinkedIn, Indeed.com, GlassDoor.com, etc. This marketing strategy will be necessary to avoid wasting time as you launch the networking phase of your search and help your network know how to more effectively assist you.
- Be realistic about the length of your search—it will likely take several months, not several weeks.
- Have professional business cards made. They’re inexpensive and very important when networking.
Phase II: Building A Network
You have exited your former company on good terms and you are ready to find a new job … fast! It is very important to recognize that traditional methods of searching for a new job do not always work and the “right approach” will always be evolving. Typically, you will find most jobs you apply for online fail to get a response unless the keywords in your resume closely match the needs of the role. Also, many positions you may be interested are confidential (not available online) and I assure you it is highly unusual for someone to call you out of the blue with a great opportunity. There has been a significant paradigm shift in job search that favors skilled networkers and relationship developers. Here are the Best Practices for networking from my experience and the feedback from job seekers I have encountered:
- Be intentional! You should be networking and spending quality time with people who can give you valuable job search assistance. Don’t waste time.
- Thank everyone and remember every kindness done for you! Be professional and follow up every meeting with a handwritten note or at least a thank you e-mail.
- Find an accountability partner to push you. Ask a candid friend, your spouse or someone else you trust to hold you accountable in your search. Check in with them frequently and ask them for feedback on how you are doing. This process is difficult to do by yourself. HELPFUL TIP: Don’t seek validation and affirmation from your accountability partner, but instead seek candid guidance that will help you avoid mistakes and wasted time.
- Remember the importance of metrics. A very effective way to measure the effectiveness of your search is through meetings. I suggest having at least 10 meetings a week with people who can provide assistance with your job search. This is more effective than email blasts to your network.
- Contact the Alumni Office of the schools you attended and ask for access to the alumni directory. This is often found online and can be a fantastic resource.
- Join LinkedIn, build a compelling profile and pay for the upgrade (usually the first level of upgrade is appropriate) to have full access to the tools and features on the site. For a useful article on how to utilize this site, check out Practical LinkedIn 4.0. The key is to use LinkedIn to connect directly and efficiently with hiring managers and useful contacts. There is some benefit to Twitter and Facebook depending on your generation, but LinkedIn is specifically designed for business use and is most widely used by professionals.
- Ask the senior executives you worked for in your previous company(s) for referrals and active introductions to potential hiring managers in their network.
- Give your network a very clear request when asking for help: “I would be grateful for an active introduction to senior executives in your network. Would you please introduce me via email and send them my resume?” This is so much more effective than the more common: “Keep me in mind if you hear of anything.” This is the wrong thing to say and will not yield good results.
- NEVER begin a conversation with a new networking contact like this: “I am in a job search. Can you help me?” ALWAYS offer assistance first! Make it about them and their needs, not just what you want. You can say, “I would like to explore ways we can help each other.” Or “I would be glad to make my network available to you and would be grateful for any networking help you can provide me.” Starting with, “I am in a job search…” initiates defensive behaviors and up goes the proverbial wall.
- Become more active in the community. Aside from being the right thing to do, volunteering your time to non-profits and charities will gain you important exposure to other like-minded business people. Fair warning … be sincere and remember the importance of giving back to others. Real stewardship can’t be faked.
- Consider joining networking groups, but be selective. There are useful groups, but unfortunately many are a waste of time. Make sure the ones you select are relevant for you, have interesting speakers and the business people attending fit your needs.
- Get connected to reputable search firms. Remember, search firms work for client companies to find candidates for their open positions. There is a common misconception that search firms find people jobs. It is always good to be referred to key players in a firm, which enhances your profile and credibility. Do your homework on the Internet and ask around … you will quickly see which firms are ethical and treat candidates well.
- Develop an “elevator pitch” about your background and what you are seeking. You should be able to share in less than 60 seconds your measurable accomplishments and what you are looking for in a new opportunity.
- Attend seminars, workshops or conferences relevant to your industry to stay current and visible.
- Connect through content. Share relevant, informative articles with your network and potential hiring managers to demonstrate an interest in their business. It shows you are staying current. Even better, consider making a gift to a potential hiring manager of a book that has made an impact on you and accompany the gift with a handwritten note.
HELPFUL TIP: When networking and asking for assistance, be very specific about the kind of help you need. For instance, “Bob, can you introduce me via email to the vice president of HR at your company and share my resume? If it would be helpful, I will forward you an email describing my background and what I am seeking along with my resume.” For more tips on the right way to ask others for help, check out this post.
Phase III: Interviewing
You have worked hard, followed the tips above and you are getting invited to interviews. Great job, but don’t put your feet up yet! You made it through the land mines to have an opportunity to interview, but the competition is fierce and you must stay focused. Here are helpful Best Practices for interviewing:
- Do your homework. Carefully research the company and the hiring manager(s) on the Internet. LinkedIn and Google are excellent resources for obtaining background information on people. Also, have thoughtful questions ready for the person interviewing you. Never go to an interview unprepared.
- Be nice to the Receptionist and the hiring manager’s Assistant. These people are quick to size people up. Be courteous, professional and friendly … much can be learned from a warm conversation with them. Expect their impressions of you to be conveyed to the hiring manager or HR department.
- A few basics: dress professionally, bring copies of your resume on quality paper, don’t wear distracting cologne or perfume, arrive 15 minutes early, give quantifiable answers to questions, do not ramble and follow up with a thank-you note by mailing it the next day if possible.
- Make a personal connection with the interviewer. You are looking to win an advocate for your candidacy as well as eventually get the job. Every person you meet in the interview process should tell the others involved: “Great candidate and good culture fit. I really like him/her.” Remember that asking questions, commenting on pictures and diplomas in the office and highlighting shared interests changes an interview from hiring authority and candidate into two people having a friendly conversation. This is desirable and will serve you well throughout the process.
- Ask questions about culture in the interview. What are the values and vision of the company? Research will tell you much, but I suggest that hearing the answers directly from an employer will be more revealing. Make sure you share not only your skills and background in the interview, but how you would fit the culture. Many candidates forget to do this.
- Be clear and concise about why you are the right fit for the job. If you have done your homework and asked good questions, you will be able to relate specific parts of your background to the open position, emphasizing why you are the right person. Also, do NOT forget to express your interest in the job. I frequently hear from hiring executives about candidates who didn’t seem excited enough or interested in their open positions.
- It is a good idea to offer references in the interview. If you followed the tips in Phase I, you will have gathered letters of recommendation and secured good references. Telling a hiring manager that you strongly suggest they “speak to someone who can describe my leadership ability” will gain you an advantage and make you look more credible.
- Stay calm! Nervousness leads to over-talking which will negatively impact your chances.
HELPFUL TIP: You have one opportunity to make a great first impression. Do your homework, dress professionally, follow up with a thank-you note in timely manner and think of creative and appropriate ways to differentiate yourself from other candidates.
Phase IV: Negotiating an Offer and Landing a Job
The interview or interviews have gone well and you have a realistic shot at landing a new job. You are in the last portion of your search journey and in many ways, it is the most crucial. Negotiating the right offer can be difficult, but these Best Practices will help:
- Negotiating an offer can be a tricky thing if you are not prepared. You will always be asked, usually early in the process, what you are earning. Share your past compensation openly and candidly. This will be on the application anyway, so don’t hide it.
- The REALLY difficult question is, “What sort of compensation package are you seeking?” It throws many people off! Answer this way: “I am very interested in this opportunity and have thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I would like to move forward in the process and learn more about your organization and the team. I will commit to you that I am open to a fair and compelling offer.” If pushed further, perhaps say, “You know what I was earning before. I am open to the way the total package is structured, but certainly would prefer to avoid taking a step backward.” It can be uncomfortable, but remember this: when you give a firm number, you’re tied to that number. You may be underselling or eliminating yourself from further consideration by sharing firm numbers. If you are forced to do it in order to proceed in the process and there is no other recourse, then sharing a firm (but realistic) compensation number is acceptable.
- Always get an offer in writing. Verbal offers are okay, but it must be followed by a written offer. There is often a strong desire from some employers to have an immediate answer, but you should always ask for some time to consider the offer … even 24 hours is helpful. Evaluate it very carefully and consider the overall offer, your negotiable points and where you will not be able to budge.
- If you think there is an opportunity to negotiate, explore the subject carefully and professionally with the decision maker. For example, “I am very excited about the offer and look forward to a great career in your company. We are very close on the terms, but I was wondering if you could consider increasing the base in order to keep me whole from my last position and also add a week of vacation, again to match what I had before. Your health benefits kick in after 90 days, which means I will be on COBRA during that time. Can you pick up that cost or help me offset it in some way? Everything else looks fantastic and I am hoping we can come to terms soon on these other points as I am eager to start.”
- Immediately let your network know that you have landed and share your new contact information. Absolutely take this opportunity to thank everyone for his or her kindness and willingness to help you.
- Remember, you will need this network again one day, so don’t ignore or neglect what you have carefully built. Stay connected, pay it forward by helping others and continue meeting with key connectors after you start your new job. Avoid a common mistake: don’t assume your network is unnecessary after you find a new job!
HELPFUL TIP: You have landed a new job— congratulations! Now, be willing to pay it forward and help others who are still looking. Pass along the lessons you have learned and give them access to your network.
To conclude, this is a summary of a solid and proven job search strategy. I frequently share this advice based on my experience and feedback I get from job seekers and I am confident it will make you more effective in your search. I view this list as ever evolving and you should always experiment to see what works best for you. I wish you the best of luck and hope you land in a great role soon.
Randy Hain is an executive coach, award-winning author of seven books, a prolific blogger, national speaker and the president of Serviam Partners (www.ServiamPartners.com). His books include LANDED! Proven Job Search Strategies for Today’s Professional and Something More: The Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life. All of his books can be found on Amazon.