Sometimes everything just falls into place. You hear about a job, have a couple of interviews and get the offer in a few short weeks.
Most of the time, that’s not the case. If you’ve been job hunting for a while without much success, it’s time to review what you’ve been doing to find the weak spots in your process.
Of course, much depends on factors from your location to your level to your industry, but if your search is stalling, make sure you aren’t falling into these common traps.
- You don’t use keywords in your resume. If you apply to jobs online or through HR departments, you absolutely need to sprinkle keywords through your resume. Your social profiles and cover letters should contain pertinent key words as well. When applying to a specific job, tailor your resume to be sure that it includes some of the keywords that appear in the job description.
- You apply to hundreds of jobs online. So much is wrong with trying to find a job this way it might deserve its own list. With hundreds, even thousands, of people applying to every job, your odds of getting one by throwing your resume into the black hole are pretty darn low. Some other problems with this approach: If you are applying for that many jobs, you probably don’t know what you want, other than a new job. You probably aren’t customizing your resume and cover letter. You are fooling yourself into thinking you are doing a lot to find a job, when the truth is you aren’t doing enough. You may soon get discouraged, too. Every job seeker should use a wide range of tools to find a gig, including recruiters, networking, answering ads, and social media.
- You don’t like to network. When people say this, and many of them do, it usually means they network only when they need a new job. Of course that feels awkward and forced. You feel uncomfortable and you probably make other people uncomfortable as well. Take a long-range view of networking and regularly make the time to help others in your industry through referrals and recommendations, sharing articles and research, and attending panels and events. If you are among those who say they hate small talk or aren’t good at meeting new people, learn to be. Master a graceful way to introduce yourself and then take the focus off yourself. Ask questions. Be curious about other people and the world and you might even start to enjoy networking.
- You don’t keep in touch with former colleagues. Companies love to hire people referred by their own employees, so staying in touch with people you worked well with in the past can be the best thing you do for your career.
- You don’t write cover letters. No matter how many people tell you that no one reads cover letters anymore, write them. Sure, some managers might not care about them, but that’s impossible for a job seeker to know. More important, a good cover letter can set you apart. No one expects you to be Shakespeare, but craft a few paragraphs that explain what you can do for that company. Keep it short—three paragraphs are fine. And spellcheck.
- You don’t write thank you notes. As with cover letters, many people say they don’t matter anymore. I disagree. Following up with a short email after an interview shows respect for your interviewer and for yourself. Why would you allow other people’s bad manners to determine your career path?
- You think you deserve a job. You may be smart, or well educated, or hard working, or highly experienced, or have good hair, or are breathing. But no one is entitled to a particular job. That kind of thinking will leave you bitter and angry, so don’t go there.
- You talk too much about yourself at interviews. Wait—aren’t you there to sell yourself? Yes and no. A successful interview is a conversation. You both are trying to determine if you are a good fit for the job. Really listen to what your interviewer is saying so you can frame your responses correctly and ask insightful follow-up questions. Obvious? Well, it should be, but most people are too busy planning what they are going to say next to carefully listen, much less read between the lines. Listening attentively will allow you to tailor your questions to specific problems or issues your interviewer is discussing or implying. And that’s the best way to sell yourself.
- You haven’t learned something new in years. The world is always changing and expanding, and you should be, too. Learn to code, learn a new language, learn to take better photos—just keep learning. Check out online classes or take an evening class or weekend workshop. Keep up with industry news. Companies are looking for people who can change and innovate in a complex world, and the more you know the more ideas and information you will have to contribute.
- You spend most evenings sitting at home. Building informal networks can expand your career options and help you become a more interesting and well-rounded person. Volunteer, coach, mentor, go to local events and get to the gym. The more you stay engaged in your community and with other people, the more likely you will build a network that supports your success.