Prepare to nail your job search!

A busness about to scale-up
Diary of a Recruitment Entrepreneur Part 4 (of 5)
December 1, 2016
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December 30, 2016

Prepare to nail your job search!

So you have drawn the conclusion that it’s time to move job? Are you going to plan your job-search before throwing yourself in at the deep end? Surely you just bang your CV out to job posts that catch your eye, and maybe a few agencies, and see what happens, right? From what I can gather, as somewhat of a recruitment veteran now, this is the default strategy for a majority of ‘candidates’. However, I would argue that your job and more importantly your career is actually a strategically important item. There is potentially a huge upside in getting it right, ranging from job satisfaction, work-life balance, financial security etc. However there is also a potentially a huge down-side in getting it wrong ranging from job dis-satisfaction, life upheaval and financial hardship. Would you plan a key project in this way in your ‘day job’ that had major financial, and strategic implications and significant ‘risk’? I thought not! 🙂 So again, with your job search, given that it’s a proper project, what is the purpose, scope, timeframes, budget, supplier/partners and stakeholders? What is the review mechanisms and review process?

If you find yourself out of work, due to un-planned events e.g. redundancy then I urge you to consider your job-search as your new full-time job! Go at it with the same level of thought, care, energy and commitment that you would put into any other work project. You never know quite how much time and effort finding something ‘fit-for-purpose’ is going to take; however chances are it will take twice as long on a half hearted basis and/or will come to a poor conclusion.

If you are currently gainfully employed but are looking for a change, you will need to allocate time in which to conduct the process properly in order to reasonably expect a good result. I’m thinking to invest as least as much time and effort researching and executing the search as you would to buy your ‘forever’ home.

But before you thrust your CV out of the closet, are you sure that you really want to leave your employer? Is this the best or the only solution to your issue? What are the ‘push factors’ driving the move and is there another way to remove, limit or work around them? To pick on a few common scenario’s: If you are looking for a pay-rise can you put a decent business case forward for this to your boss? If your boss is the problem, can you either resolve your differences through discussion/mediation or move internally? If you are looking for more interesting projects can you put your hand up and get some? If the commute is killing you can you negotiate flexible hours and/or home-working? You get the idea. Counter offers will be the subject of another blog however to return to the first fixable situation on this list briefly. Before you go through the circus of finding a new job, being offered, accepting, resigning, getting a counter offer and ultimately staying … if you are looking for more money, just ask! If it is possible this will be the most efficient and least painful route the extra money for all parties, that could get dragged in to the aforementioned circus!

If your issues are not fixable as above, if your factors are ‘pull factors’ such as pursuing your passion, and/or you have reached a well thought out conclusion that moving good be the best thing for you then go ahead, but go ahead confidently, indeed purposefully. This will be made possible by a good plan!

To take a step back in line of the bigger picture and the longer term, your job search, and target next role, should be looked at within the context of an over-arching career plan. (Which I am doubly sure that the vast majority of people will absolutely not have). As much as possible we should be proactive not reactive but it’s easy to get distracted by a sexy job that ‘presents itself’. If you secure yourself a new job paying more money but it is not taking you in the right direction, then it is still the wrong move! So set yourself a career peak goal or at least where you are aiming to get to medium term and work back from there as to what kind of next step aligns with that direction and facilitates the accomplishment of your career goals. To give an example if your goal is to run your own consulting business then a position giving you more exposure to sales/marketing could be synergistic.

Furthermore if you are going to move it doesn’t have to be now! Patience is a virtue that I think is less exercised in general ‘these-days’. Timing is often said to be ‘everything, and considering internal and external factors in order to time job-search right is certainly worthwhile. How’s the economy right now for example? In general more people move jobs in an ‘up’ economy as individuals literally feel more ‘bullish’, this mean more choices both due to growth and replacement job availability and upwards pressure on compensation. Looking in a ‘down’ economy is typically perceived as more of a risk, with people feeling grateful to have a job and hanging on to it, meaning fewer options in the job market. What about time of year? The summer for example is flat in recruitment as especially senior people who are hiring managers and decision makers typically take time off. January is one of the busiest time especially in permanent recruitment as new budgets get opened, companies commit to sorting out the recruitment that they have been putting off and candidates crack on with their new year new career resolutions! Looking in the busy periods I would say is preferable, however it is a double edged sword in that there are more options but there is also more competition. It’s a bit of a Christmas tradition in job-search circles to bag and bank your bonus before handing in your notice. This seems a bit mercenary but at the end of the day this has been earned and it’s typically the kind of sum you don’t just want to leave on the table as you head off; so if you know extra money is coming, if possible plan to stick around and get it. NB sometimes you may be able to negotiate a ‘signing bonus’ from the company you are joining in lieu of the bonus you will forego but this has been much more rare in the fragile post-recession reality. Also to cover a more thoughtful consideration you may elect to job-search and therefore potentially move at a time that will cause less or least disruption to your current boss / company i.e. at conclusion of a project and not before a big event etc. As I will cover in the upcoming resignation and counter offer blog-posts it’s a small world and always best not to burn any bridges; to avoid leaving a bitter taste in your bosses mouth is ‘sweet’ and could well pay dividends in future.

Even if on reflection ‘the time is still now’, I still suggest to be strategic, don’t just look at jobs salaries and start hitting apply. Do some research & some reflection!

Think about industries that are attractive in general and to you specifically. Can you align yourself with safe, popular, or ground-breaking technology/process/methodologies to suit your level of risk. In these fast moving times of digital disruption whole industries can become defunct, you just have to look at companies such as Blockbuster and Kodak on the scrap-heap. So it’s worth at least consciously trying to avoid heading down a ‘career cul-de-sac’. E.g. in an era of modular construction & 3D printing, targeting a construction company that only believes in building brick by brick may not be the way forward.

Think about companies to target and companies to avoid. Consider aspects such as reputation, financial performance, ownership, trajectory, projects, and the elusive company culture as well as the obvious stuff like proximity. Is the company in question a ‘safe-bet’ but also is it a good ‘fit’ for you? Will your norms, values and beliefs align? Apart from asking trusted people in your network, utilising tools such as glass door who publish reviews and ratings from company employees, can be useful. I still think still to take such reviews and opinions with a pinch of salt though as everyone has their own axe to grind and it’s horses for courses at the end of the day. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa.

Think about jobs, not just about if it’s the job you do now or something you are qualified for. Evaluate the challenge(s) associated with the role – ideally to stretch but not break you, the level of interest it holds – ideally igniting your passions, any opportunities to acquire new skills and enjoy new experiences, as well as the salary and overall compensation package. It is worth noting at this point that the companies & jobs that pay the most are not always ‘the best’. If you think about it, the company position paying the most in a given market is often doing so because they have to, i.e there is nothing else they can leverage to attract employees. Whereas there are some companies and jobs that are so attractive that people will pretty much work for free just to get in e.g Alan Sugar’s Apprentice! Overall, look at if the job in hand is attractive (whatever that means for you), but also if it will help you springboard to bigger and better things in your next role, e.g will your skill-set and overall marketability be enhanced by the up-coming experience.

Lastly look at your potential new boss. This person is likely the highest influencer of your enjoyment of the new role and largely hold the keys to your success and access to future promotions. So glean what you can from the interview, do your research, listen to your gut instinct and choose wisely. People leave managers not companies and if this key relationship is flawed from the outset your next role could be short lived and this can rightly or wrongly be a red flag when people review your CV. That said, in a company with strong positive values and consistent culture, your experience should be similarly good irrespective of your individual manager and indeed if that person changes.

In terms of what methods to use and not use again a plan even if broad/general is likely going to be better than no plan. (Often called a spray and pray approach). I’m likely over-simplifying here but I suggest a spread-bet approach where you pursue a number of different channels in parallel. But make sure you analyse your results and then refine your approach as you continue the search to focus on the areas which are giving you best ‘bang for your buck’! Methods/channels could/should include, your own personal network, social media networks, (primarily LinkedIN but increasingly Twitter & potentially Facebook). NB Social Media & job search will be the subject of another blog. Job boards such as Reed & Monster and also aggregators such as Indeed; who scrape postings from numerous sources and send them to you on a targeted basis. Also, in case you hadn’t looked for a while print advertising be this in newspapers or industry journals is pretty much dead.

Lastly a subject naturally close to my heart, utilising recruitment agents. This will also be explored fully in a subsequent role but to cut a long story short, who you have representing you is important, less is often more in terms of recruitment agency partnerships and when choosing, specialist invariably trumps generalist. A related point is in respect to controlling your CV distribution. This is crucial in respect to protecting your confidentiality in keeping the CV from ending up in the wrong hands. However it is also a matter of how you are perceived i.e discerning or desperate. Rightly or wrongly hiring, consciously or un-consciously hiring decision makers have a demand & supply mind-set where if your CV is readily available or worse is sent in from multiple sources then it is in over-supply and therefore treated as of less value.

In terms of what jobs to apply for specifically, again I suggest applying some discipline. Apply primarily or exclusively to positions where you have a high chance of success or at least where you meet the mandatory criteria. This is more efficient and shows intelligence plus some respect for the person screening your application, (that you actually may want to keep on-side for a future role). Only apply to opportunities where company, location and salary are such that you will actually be willing to attend an in-person interview. Again there’s no point in potentially annoying a company by carelessly applying to something you do not wish to pursue. Fast forward a month and the very same company/contact may have ‘the-perfect’ job and you don’t want to be on the back-foot from the outset. Don’t bombard a company or contact with numerous applications, if they have multiple vacancies be selective, which again demonstrates your understanding of the closest matches and respects their time. I would also suggest to avoid using your current company email to make applications. It may be viewed as un-professional and you may end up flagging your intentions to your current company depending on how closely the monitor email. (Yes companies do monitor email)!

In order to maximise chance of success with each (carefully selected) application, I say DO tailor your cover letter to each job. However keep it short and sweet. So often I see cover letters as a long winded explanation of why someone should be considered for the role even though their CV is just not right! I think to make on polite, professional follow up call to ensure CV received and to chase progress is in order. Even if you hit a voicemail, which is invariably the case these days, a succinct, clear professional message demonstrates interest, proactivity and will help foster a positive impression.

Treat all stages of the process and every touchpoint with a prospective employer or representing recruitment agency as ‘part of the process’. Your communications should be timely, accurate, friendly and in-line with their company values. You should be willing and able to return calls / answer questions, book appointments etc. and the best way to facilitate this may be to take time off to prioritise this important project. Likewise ensure you don’t burn any bridges when coming out of a recruitment process, communication is key. Whether declining an interview or an offer make sure you handle politely, professionally and in-person. NB I will cover interview preparation / technique and offer negotiation / management in a separate blog.

Play your cards close to your chest. So often individuals ‘get caught’ looking for other jobs, which isn’t a crime of course, but it’s best if you control who knows what and when. Knowledge is power. Sometimes the breach is from a change in attitude/behaviour or work habits giving the game away, increasingly it’s a social media slip, rarely it’s a shoddy recruiter playing fast and loose with your resume. However I would say most commonly is that you told too many people or certainly at least one that couldn’t be trusted about your job search. Actually I would argue that it is best not to tell anyone at all that you are looking until you hand in your resignation. Your Boss should be the first to know in professional protocol and it is an unnecessary burden to place on someone giving a moral dilemma if you do over-share that you are looking.

Pause to reflect. Even if you start a job search, make applications, attend interviews and even entertain offers, you don’t have to move! Having researched the job market, gauged interest and maybe got a good idea of your current market value through the process; you could still elect to ‘come off the market’ and stay put. This is much the same as you would in the house buying/selling example I used earlier. If you didn’t like any offers you may take time out, possibly make some changes and have another go at a future date where you may do better. You want to make your next move count! NB this option is more difficult if you have blown your cover with your current employer.

So if you are considering looking for a new job or are actively looking currently, I hope that my observations and advice are of value to you. If you are looking for first class representation as a client or candidate, keep Macstaff in mind. All the best with your ongoing career journey & let me know how you get along!

All the best, Anthony
01275 331307 / 07983255399
TW @MacstaffUK