During my long years as a career specialist, I have sat opposite some very smart people indeed. Former Rhodes Scholars and CEOs, as well as street smart individuals from many walks of life.
Yet, it’s not unusual for me to face the situation where I do not agree with my client’s proposed job search strategy.
Knowledge is Power
Sometimes it’s the small things in life that let us down. I recently took to a bike in Amsterdam without first checking what their ‘road’ rules were. It was quite a hairy experience and I was lucky not to get bowled over by more than one bike.
When it comes to your career, a similar lack of knowledge can be equally dangerous. It can be the difference between performing well at interviews and bombing out, for example. Or, between coming across as a savvy, appealing candidate in your social media profiles versus appearing out of touch with your personal brand management.
At a minimum, avoiding these errors can save you wasting time and effort in your search for a new job – important issues when you are in the midst of a job change.
My bike riding mistakes came about because I assumed that I knew what I was doing. I was comfortable riding a bike in the streets of Adelaide and never imagined that I needed to skill myself up to perform this activity in a more complicated environment.
And in the careers sphere, why do we make so many simple errors?
Over the years, I have come to two conclusions:
- First, there is a narrow but significant gap in a most critical element of our lives – the ability to manage our OWN careers. (Perhaps it is because we’ve never bothered to research Best Practice ideas about what actually works)
- Second, we often lose our sense of strategy when it comes to our OWN job search. (Perhaps it is because we are panicking and fall back on easy but unskilled techniques.)
Regardless of the reason, here are five of the most common errors I have spotted over the years, with tips about how to avoid falling into these traps. They range from the obvious to the mundane and you can use them as a check list to vet your own technique next time you are looking for a new role.
Error #1: Not accessing the latest advice about LinkedIn profiles and adjusting your profile
I meet very few professionals these days who have not heard of LinkedIn. I also meet very few people who have strong LinkedIn profiles.
There’s no excuses anymore as advice about how to use this site well is readily available.
At a minimum, just type into Google something like: ‘How important is LinkedIn and what does a good LinkedIn profile look like?’
Then, it’s a matter of 10-15 minutes reading and you have some excellent advice at your finger tips. (Note: make sure that you read advice from experts who understand your culture. Australians, for example, tend to be more reticent selling themselves than other cultures.)
The next step, of course, is to actually do something about it.
These days, every additional person who sees and judges you on a poorly presented LinkedIn profile is a negative for your career. It’s just not worth the damage you do to your reputation.
The good news is that it is quite easy to clean up your profile and it only takes about half an hour.
Error #2: Failing to separate due diligence from selling at a job interview
‘Do you have any questions for us?’
At the end of an interview, it is quite standard for the interviewer to give you the opportunity to ask your own questions.
Invariably, when I am drilling clients in interview practice and throw this question at them, they use the opening to ask a (usually) mundane question about the role. And, invariably, I recommend that they do not do this.
My starting point when it comes to interviews is simple. Use every instant of time you have at your disposal to sell yourself to the prospective employer. Complete your due diligence outside of the interview process itself.
By all means ask two to three questions when you are given this prompt. However, frame these questions to CONTINUE the sales process. Ask questions where you don’t actually care what the answer is, where you are taking advantage of the opening to give the interviewer additional information about how suitable you are for the role. Use the prompt to continue to make a good impression.
Now, you do need to be careful here. Australians spot a fake a mile away so your questions need to sound normal and sensible. Let’s look at an example…
‘In my last role, I …. Can you tell me whether this would form part of this role?’
You don’t really care about the answer – you just want them to realise that you are skilled in a particular issue that may not have come out in the interview.
Error #3: Applying for a role where you don’t meet the key criteria
It’s a core part of my role to help clients to craft what I call a compelling Cover Letter.
Yet, when my clients show me a job ad and announce that they think it’s a great job, I have learned to quickly scan the advertisement before I start. All too often, there is a very poor match between their skills and background and the requirements specified in the ad.
Just recently, I took a client at his word and we were going along swimmingly with a great Cover Letter. Then, half way down the ad, we came to the crunch point.
‘experience as a Registered Nurse essential’.
My client assured me that he thought that the Community Liaison role was better performed by a non-medical person but, after checking with the employer, it turned out that they didn’t agree.
Unless you have the hide of a rhinoceros, every knock back you receive in the job hunting process is likely to damage your self-confidence, so I recommend that you only apply for roles where you clearly meet more than 80% of the core criteria.
This does not mean that you should not ever go out on a limb and apply for slightly ‘out there’ roles. However, if you choose to do so:
- Contact the employer before you expend much energy on applying. Fill them in on your background and ascertain their level of interest in your application
- Find someone sensible and run your thoughts past them to see if they think you have any sort of a reasonable chance at winning an interview
- If you do decide to go ahead and apply, make sure that your Cover Letter, Résumé AND interview technique are all outstanding, as you are likely to be the ‘wild card’ applicant
Error #4: Not doing your homework before the job interview
The days of candidates bluffing their way through job interviews are over. As technology improves and more people are able to access company information, research on an organisation and interviewer are important steps in securing work.
There is no excuse for not doing research and interviewers can tell if you have not done your homework. It’s there for all to see in answers that are not personalised, or in the work examples you cite that aren’t 100 percent relevant to the role, the organisation or its clients.
I often refer to it as a black mark against your name. So many candidates still have this lackadaisical approach that you’d wonder why employers get so offended but there’s no doubt that they do. So, conversely, if YOU are the only candidate who has done the homework, it gives you such an advantage and allows you to stand out.
Ask yourself how much you want the role and then get to work!
Error #5: Giving up too soon
I can remember once reading that, all things being equal, a job will go to someone who is…Male…Tall…and Blonde.
Now, I’m none of the above so when I am in a selling situation, I face three choices:
- I can give up and withdraw from the competition
- I can find those ‘buyers’ who do not suffer from the above prejudice
- I can make myself so (professionally) appealing to the buyer, that they no longer care about this so-called magic formula
Facing an Uphill Battle?
It is quite normal for a young graduate to have high levels of anxiety about how to break into the job market and find a meaningful role. I can remember graduating into Paul Keating’s ‘recession we had to have’ being quite convinced that no one would want me.
At the other end of the age spectrum, I often work with older Baby Boomers whose first words when they meet me are usually, ‘No one is going to hire me ‘cos I’m too old. All these young ones are prejudiced against older workers.’
So what do Millenials and Baby Boomers have in common? They often face difficulties in finding a job.
I know that I tend to overuse this phrase which helped me so much when I was recovering from multiple injuries, but I can’t help myself: ‘It is what it is.’
As an individual, it is almost impossible to change the reality that we face. What we CAN do is to ensure that we have an effective response to the perception we face in the job marketplace.
Tap into your support networks
Everyone needs someone to help them through a Job Search campaign because many of the issues are actually between your ears.
Find someone to help you counter negative fears and thought patterns, and to assist you to manage your demeanour. Garner their support to counter that nasty little voice in your head that pipes up when things go wrong, ‘Well no-one’s going to hire me anyway because I’m too….’
There are so many wise people out there in our lives and we all know who they are. I was helped by such a savvy person when I left my first career.
Treat your wise person with respect. Do as much research as you can on your own but then tap into that wisdom. Use their knowledge and skills to minimise your job search errors and enable a smoother and faster transition to that new job.
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