John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.
What a job seeker intuitively expects and thinks about job search in some ways has not changed during my 29-year career coaching journey. Many of the things I have people think about and do I learned as a relative infant in this business many years ago. A lot of those ideas were built on a solid foundation. I don’t want to go back in time, but history teaches me that some of the thought processes from years ago, especially a few counterintuitive steps, could help job seekers today.
“John, this is my job 40 or so hours a week,” a military veteran said to me today. “I am hammering this thing, applications, LinkedIn and more. It is what I am focused on nonstop.”
If you distilled out of this comment the word “LinkedIn,” it could be exactly what someone probably said to me dozens of times in the early nineties, about a generation ago now. I would spend countless hours one-on-one with people in my office and sometimes over the phone.
A lot has changed about job search since that time. Here’s some of what we did way back then, for perspective:
• There was no internet.
• Most jobs appeared in want ads in newspapers.
• We printed cover letters.
• We printed résumés.
• Stationery made a difference.
• We snail-mailed everything.
• We coached people on stopping into companies unannounced to drop off résumés.
• You made sure your car was clean because you drove to companies.
• Our advertised services appeared in yellow pages and through occasional articles in newspapers and magazines.
The risk of talking about this now is to put out there my time and grade in this career coaching path. In a really easy nutshell, a lot has changed, but a lot has remained the same. Let me explain for a moment why this seeming waste of time in preparing yourself (and even your car) for your search helped people. The positives? Everything took so much time to do, prepare and work that you did a lot less numbers-wise but focused on quality.
In “those days,” people would send out on average less than 25 résumés and cover letters and get offers to interviews. We would painstakingly prepare everyone for a highly concentrated search. Today’s job market? Anyone from anywhere can blast their résumé out to 100-plus jobs in a day, probably.
What can you learn from history, and what are three of my favorite counterintuitive job search tips?
1. Stop job searching 40 hours a week. My counterintuitive tip? My clients balance volunteerism, giving back to others in their family and time to themselves to accomplish personal goals physically, spiritually, mentally and psychologically. They don’t hammer this thing. In some cases, they have been outplaced, laid off or fired. They don’t just need to get back on the horse and get a job. They need to build themselves up, pick up training and certifications and take time to reflect.
2. Slow down the quantity of applications and focus on quality. My counterintuitive tip? Clients who work with me know that they must build quality connections, relationships and bonds that may take more than a LinkedIn connection request or an aggressive search posture. We find creative ways to build mini friendships. We work a lot on messaging in documents, through LinkedIn messaging, through email and through virtual or in-person one-on-ones. We practice, rehearse and find creative ways to engage others in conversations that help my clients not look like every other needy jobseeker.
3. Don’t just get back on the same career horse. My counterintuitive tip? Embrace the quiet and overt reinvention of your career. This can mean clients working on true career change, career development and personal change during this time. I have heard this often: “I just need the next gig, the next job. I just don’t have time to make changes.” While that can be the case, often career change that is your choice or even not your choice can open new career ideas. Even slowing down to consider those is sometimes better than running back to the next gig. Some clients start finding their voice, write articles, develop talks and find meaningful certifications and education to pursue. In fact, some clients find out they buried powerful skills and abilities they should be giving life to.
Other clients who are “working through” a career change while holding a job naturally take the time and sometimes have more capacity to consider changes, but I find that they need to put rigor to the idea unless they are highly motivated by their bad job or know they need to make a career change.
Let me shorten comments from recruiters, hiring managers and C-suite executives I have served about their hiring practices and even their pet peeves from the front lines of today’s 2020 career landscape. They complain that people don’t take the time to research who they are talking to. They comment that it would be nice if people they interview really crafted a more personalized message as to why they want the job. They wonder why people don’t really take time to creatively respond to and customized their advertisement. They lament the fact that many people are so aggressively sending out their résumés that they look desperate. Why not? It is so easy to do.
Is there a happy medium we can learn from history? People’s desires, worries and motivations to perform and find meaningful work haven’t really changed. The ease of technology and access to people and companies has changed a lot. Walls have come down for the better in the information age, and we happily love the more diverse workforce and things like ADA accommodations.
What can we learn? Slow down and build quality personal and professional change into your job search mindset. Work on the reinvention of you and your mind and focus on building things into your career that last — relationships first.