Whether you’re starting a job search to boost your salary, change industries or get back into the workforce, a job hunt in 2021 will be unlike any other.
The rules and strategies of job hunting have changed; there are new tools and platforms, remote work offers unique possibilities and there have been major industry shakeups, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Maybe you know the job hunting basics: an error-free resume, a cover letter that connects your strengths with the job description, and a firm digital handshake on the Zoom interview.
But most people don’t realize: there is a science and art to a successful job search. It’s more than a spell-checked resume and applying to every job that catches your eye. Your job hunt is more complicated than ever before—but you also have more opportunities and advantages than ever before.
In this 3 part series, you’ll learn how to navigate each step of your job search, from the pre-application period to the application phase to the interview and acceptance finale. You’ll find actionable tips you probably haven’t heard before—plus discover the mistakes job seekers make that cost them opportunities.
Do this before start looking for a new job
It’s tempting to start sending out resumes, I know. It feels really productive—but you should actually focus on planning your job search before sending a single application. First, plan to run a targeted job search and avoid the mass application strategy. On average, with a success rate of 2-3.4%, it takes 50 applications to land one interview, but don’t mistake volume for quality. You’re better off planning out 10-20 target companies and researching them, strategizing your fit and reviewing your networking strategy than blasting out 100 generic resumes. As you plan, think about how you fit the positions you’re interested in. Think about the challenges they are trying to solve with this role and how you can contribute. Look at your network for who works there—even former clients, vendors or alumni. It’s only after you’ve done this planning phase that you’re ready to start writing or editing your resume and cover letter because now you know exactly what it takes to get the attention of hiring managers.
Common mistakes made early in the job search phase
People don’t realize that they’re marketing themselves and selling their success, skills and experience. People treat their resumes and cover letters like a list of job descriptions, not a marketing tool. In marketing, you create content for a specific audience so it engages the exact people you want to reach. That’s how you should approach your resume, cover letter and broader job search. Your job search is really about helping companies find you and understand how you help them succeed, whether that’s more sales, great leadership or better governance. If you’re pivoting to a new industry, you can still market yourself effectively… even if you lack industry experience, education or skills. You can show what you do have and will bring to the role, highlighting experience and skills that transfer well. You’d be surprised how often a hiring manager isn’t even focused on those gaps!
Impress hiring managers and recruiters with a polished resume and cover letter
One of my go-to’s is avoiding task-based language and instead using results- or number-based language to make your resume a proposal for employment. For example, I worked with a client who said they were “responsible for implementing strategies”. Not that impressive—and a hiring manager can’t tell how important their work was. After we dug into it, they actually impacted billions in revenue, thousands of employees and drove a double-digit margin increase. When they updated their resume with data and specific numbers, it went from underwhelming to impressive. Finally, a hiring manager could see their value. Remember your personal brand differentiates you from every other job seeker out there, so your resume and cover letter must communicate your unique, impressive brand. If you look like every other candidate—the same resume layout, the same generic skills—an interview is unlikely.
I also recommend working with someone, unless you have design skills yourself, to lay out a resume in a clean, modern format. Unfortunately, it’s easy to miss an interview opportunity if your resume is text-heavy or laid out poorly; your accomplishments and fit for the job get missed.
Next, never forget that a person may read your resume, but so will an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), which is the software used to track and save applications. This software is programmed to look for specific keywords and phrases, prioritizing resumes that seem to be the best fit. Always look at the phrases and keywords in the job descriptions you’re applying to. Make sure those same keywords appear in your resume and cover letter to show you’re a match for the role.
At this stage, I see people make a mistake over and over: they upload their resume, hit submit and are asked to re-enter the same information into a text-field form—and they write ‘See resume’. It is frustrating, I know, to add information you just uploaded but take the time to fill out the form. Typically, the resume upload is for the recruiter or hiring manager and the text field is for the applicant tracking system.
On final tip, though there are tons more: always send your resume over as a PDF to prevent any formatting issues. And the file name? Don’t just send “RESUME PDF”. Make the recruiter’s job easier and include your last name and the company or role you’re applying to.