A few thoughts on job hunting strategies…

hopeless job seeker turns to magical thinking

Exam results are in, holidays are coming to an end and thoughts turn to job hunting. September traditionally means that the job market starts to get busy with many new candidates and employers looking to fill new roles. In response, there is a lot of advice currently available for prospective job hunters from producing a professional cv to tips for interviews. Numerous internet job sites, the popular press and even glossy magazines are now publishing articles suggesting a more proactive approach to ensure we win the job of our dreams.

So what strategies work? How do we ensure that we stand out in a crowded jobs market? And looking beyond the taglines, are cvs really a waste of time, is the formal job interview obsolete, and will these new strategies for career progression work in the real world?

The speculative job application has clearly evolved from sending a well written cover letter and cv in to your target company. So let’s take a look at some of the proactive approaches currently being touted as the path to success and the pros and cons of how they might work in the current job market:

The Sales Pitch Over Lunch. Simply identify your target company and potential hiring manager and invite them out to lunch where you can find out more about their company and pitch what you could bring to their organisation.

Pros: It’s proactive and you can demonstrate your knowledge and skills. Also, it’s a great networking opportunity whether there are employment prospects now or in the future.

Cons: People are busy and may be reluctant to take time out if they do not know you (even for a free lunch). It may be difficult to build a rapport unless you are a natural networker and it’s not a discreet or confidential approach.

Conclusion: This approach would work best for experienced candidates looking to make a move within their own industry where they have a track record of success and possibly already know their target company well.

The pain letter. This involves targeting a company you want to work for, identifying a problem that the company is currently dealing with (the pain) and then pitching your talents, ability and track record in dealing with this problem to the individual line manager concerned, thereby potentially saving the company time and money.

Pros: it’s proactive and indicates that a lot of research and consideration has gone into your approach. In theory, you could possibly convince a hiring manager that a new position should be created to tackle this issue.

Cons: You may invest a lot of time and effort to find that there is no potential to hire at this specific time. It may be difficult to get the details correct for someone outside the organisation and it may be construed as a criticism of the existing management.

Conclusion: you should research your target organisation thoroughly, particularly company culture, to be confident that this approach would be welcomed. Ensure that you get the details correct and that you have the skills and experience to back up your pitch.

The postal job application. This was a genuine suggestion in one recent article I read. Apparently, many hiring managers are now so inundated with email applications that the traditional postal application will make you stand out from the crowd.

Pros: It’s a simple strategy and it doesn’t require previous industry experience. The hiring manager may like the novelty of getting traditional mail.

Cons: it’s not going to work for advertised positions that have specific application instructions and it makes sharing of information within organisations less convenient.

Conclusion: It may work for a speculative application where the personal touch may be appreciated. Make sure you get the correct details of who to send it to, or it will likely end up in the shredding pile.

Following on from the postal application comes the suggestion of sending your potential hiring manager some other creative examples of work or original gift to impress the company with your originality, personality and fit for their company culture. For example, I recently read about marshmallows being printed with screen shots from the prospective boss’ Facebook page to make a marketing application stand out.

Pros: Within marketing or the creative industries (where portfolio examples are routinely sent) you will certainly stand out with a well planned and executed idea.

Cons: You may be considered just too desperate or even downright creepy.

Conclusion: Don’t try this with any traditional accountancy or legal firms, or indeed anyone who doesn’t like marshmallows.

Networking. Job vacancies have always been filled through networking and referrals from existing contacts. Attending industry relevant events, lunches and conferences are all valuable networking opportunities. However, for individuals who find networking difficult or opportunities limited, LinkedIn provides an ideal opportunity to use your existing network and expand your contacts list. Ensuring that you have a LinkedIn profile is considered a basic requirement for job hunters and they are routinely reviewed by recruiters and hiring managers. Make the most of your profile by following relevant industry contacts and contributing content, either by re-posting or creating original posts to help you to stand out in your industry. Use LinkedIn to research companies of interest and potential hiring managers. It’s never been so easy to get this important background information. Keep your profile active and up to date and use it to keep track of industry news and jobs advertised.

Of course, successfully securing a new role can be a little more complex in real life. Some industry sectors are more traditional than others and organisations vary greatly in company culture. However, there are a few common factors that we can pull from these suggestions that will improve your chances of success.  Knowing what you want to do next, what type of company your next career move is going to be with and what you can offer your target company form a very strong foundation for starting a job hunt.

In conclusion, a direct approach can be very successful. However, to make the right impression a good deal of groundwork needs to be done. An ill-considered pitch, with irrelevant content or approaching the wrong point of contact will only waste time and your efforts will go unrewarded.

So why wait for an advertised vacancy and compete against all other applicants? Do your research and go for it…  just skip the marshmallows.

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