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Coach Oliver Hansard give the first of his 12 tips for job hunting in the New Year at this difficult time.
I’ve have had more job searches and been to more interviews than I am prepared to admit. I have had lots of advice and received lots of scars on the way through, so here is the first part [of three over the next days] of my 12 top job hunting tips if you need them for the new year.
You’ve decided. You need to get on with that job search. Either, it’s something you know you should have started a while ago, or it’s something you’ve been forced into. Either way, now’s the time to get going. So, where to begin? Where better than with yourself?
Such is the nature of the modern workplace that we rarely take a moment to step back and think about who we are and what we really want. On one level it can be considered a pretty self-indulgent thing to do; but on another it is a pretty crucial thing to get to grips with before you expose yourself to the bear pit that is the job hunting world.
There are a whole range of ways to go about it: take a personality test (boy are there are hundreds, but many are free); talk to colleagues and friends who know you well; get some professional coaching (I would say that wouldn’t I?) or simply, take some time for yourself and reflect. Look at what you like to do, look at who and which activities you are naturally drawn to. Try to work out if you have a clear purpose and what values naturally support and enable your attainment of that purpose.
Case study – One of my old bosses had his pet interview question: “what do you stand for?” When they heard this, many of my colleagues thought he was being really pretentious. But stop, and think about it for a moment.
Firstly, it’s a great open question. Unstructured and it forces (or enables, depending on your point of view) the interviewee to guide the conversation. Secondly, it gives a real insight into both the maturity and thoughtfulness of the respondent. Have they actually ever stopped to think where they are going and what their goals are? Do they value the art of self-reflection; have they considered their options; have they ever questioned how they impact those around them and what is important to them. And how does the interviewee sum themselves up? What’s their brand, what is important to them, what will their employer and fellow employees experience when working with them? What are their values and what will their lasting impact be?
On one level, really philosophical and abstract stuff. But on another level, it’s really important for you to understand and be able to articulate what you fundamental drivers are and the impact you will have over time.
Fear not, if you are anything like me, you may never bottom out exactly who you are and what your purpose truly is. But the closer you get the more equipped you will be in identifying what you want and the role to look for. You might experience some positive side effects too. Making difficult decisions can become much easier if you have a greater sense of who you are and your priorities. You can start to develop a really useful compass that defines who you are, the route you should go and what decisions you might make. Not a bad pay-off for just stopping for a moment and reflecting.
How many of us have had our heart sink turning up for our first day at a new job as we realise we are in the wrong place. I envy those I have met on the way through for whom every day is a pleasure and work truly inspires them.
Whilst we’re all under pressure to work, earn and develop our careers, all the research shows that the more we enjoy our work and the more engaged in it we are, the more the productive we will be. As a consequence, time invested in working out and understanding what we really want from our working lives is critical.
For sure, many of us will never be truly inspired by our work and will spend much of our careers just enduring it. However, the more we want to do it and enjoy it the more effective we will be. So, the best chance we have of finding the ideal job is putting our energy into identifying what that job might look like. At least in that way, even if you never find the perfect role, you have something to measure each opportunity with. Whilst you might work out how far from ideal the opportunity is, it might be closer to that ideal than the role you currently are doing.
One of the best pieces of career advice I ever got is to work out where you want to get to and then work back from there. In doing so, you will begin to plot a path of the different skills and experience you will need to get there. There are two main advantages in doing this. Firstly, you will have more direction as you move from role to role (be that internally or externally) to pick up the skills and experience you need to achieve the end goal.
Secondly, you can give yourself permission for that next role to not to be perfect. If it aligns with your end game fantastic; you can give yourself permission to accept imperfection in the short term as a part of what is needed to meet
the overall end.
So how do you end up with the job you really want? Start by asking yourself, then ask others around you. There are all sorts of self-help books to support you in working this out. However for me, money aside, it’s always been a combination of four ingredients:
1. What are the tasks you are doing on a day to day basis?
2. How do these align with the skills you have and, in combination, are you able to do and enjoy your role?
3. How much autonomy do you have relative to the experience you have and the autonomy you want?
4. Do you enjoy working with the people you are working with and have a similar set of values to them and the organisation as a whole?
Get the above worked out and then you can focus your energy on identifying and getting the job you really want. When you get to interview, you will be better equipped and energised; you will have a much stronger narrative and rationale for the role.
Similarly, when you are there you will have much more to say in the interview and be more likely to present the best version of yourself.
The corollary is also true. Be honest with yourself when you don’t want the job. Don’t apply for it, or pull out of the process as soon as you realise it’s wrong. If it’s not you then, at some point, no matter how much energy you spent trying to prove to yourself and others to the contrary, it will be time to move on again.
Most job seekers’ instincts involve going straight to headhunters and recruiters for that next job. Yes, use recruiters but use them wisely. Whilst they are, by their nature, well connected and know which businesses are recruiting, they are always employer-centric and more likely to make quick judgements about you, your capability and suitability for a particular role.
I’m convinced your network is your best and most likely source of your next job. Your network has two things over recruiters – firstly, they are all on your side, cheering you on and, in most cases, delighted when you succeed and warmed by feeling part of your success. Secondly, your network sums up as a massive, bespoke multi-node algorithm pulling for you, each member trying hard to identify one or two introductions that are increasingly more relevant for you.
Case study – Somebody once said to me, you will be surprised who does and doesn’t help you in a job search. And they were right. I’ve found both in looking for new jobs or setting up my own business. Often help comes from the most unusual places. Some people you know well and you think will be helpful are either unable or not inclined to be there for you. Others, much further out in your network can surprise you by offering that spark of inspiration or useful introduction. So, don’t be shy and mine that network; the more you dig the more gold you will find.
Most people are willing to help, particularly knowing that it might be their turn soon. Even if you haven’t spoken to someone for 2-3 years they are usually more than delighted to be contacted. They want to network just as much as you do and also know that your success means a more successful and empowered network for them.
An old colleague of mine once said to me, life is once long interview. If that’s the case then we should always be prepared. There is no point waiting for that ideal job to come up and then to go into the interview cold and make a mess of it. Practice along the way every day.
Why not treat each networking conversation as an interview? Treat each conversation as a trial run in all sorts of ways – your brand, why you left your previous role, what you are looking for, what you stand for and articulating the impact you can have. Try specific phrases, ideas and learn to listen and listen hard.
One of my oldest friends has always encouraged me to just “go and have a chat”. This approach has multiple advantages; of course, it’s a great networking opportunity, but also, as we all love to give advice, you’ll get some good ideas on the way through and nearly always for free! It also has the advantage of putting yourself in an interview situation before your interview. Listen to other perspectives and learn what’s going on out there. Try things; different ways of talking about yourself and your ambition to test and learn different approaches.
Obviously, you can also try to have formal mock interviews with friends and even professionals. It just doesn’t matter how you get it done, just be ready to talk about you and what you want in the way you want without surprises. Hopefully the only surprises will be pleasant.
*Oliver Hansard is a Business Coach and Founder of Hansard Coaching. [email protected] Look out for his next four tips tomorrow.