Preparing for Your Search
Looking for a new job or a new career can either be a difficult task or an interesting and exciting challenge. Which you choose is entirely up to you. Your state of mind, which is strongly influenced by your health, will either propel you ahead or hold you back.
Conducting a job search is a demanding task requiring peak mental condition. Whatever your level of preparedness to begin and maintain an aggressive job search campaign, we suggest you consider several actions to maximize your personal performance. All the activities below will help you maintain or improve a well-rounded self-concept and prevent the all too common problems of your self-identity being tied to your job or career.
We will also discuss other steps of preparation for your search including setting up your home office and laying the groundwork for references.
Improving Your Mental Preparedness
Good health and physical conditioning
Being in peak physical condition helps you with any mental activity, with endurance and concentration and with keeping your spirits high. Those prone to depression can improve their outlook and be more positive when in good physical condition. A regular schedule of exercise promotes increased alertness and stamina.
Let others help
Many people have a rough time learning to accept help from others. Successful people typically are very comfortable in asking for and accepting the help of others.
If you have trouble asking for or accepting help – relax. No man or woman is an island. You have not accomplished what you have so far in your life by yourself – but rather with the help of others. If this applies to you, learn to accept help more readily. The principal method of job search is networking – it depends upon the help of others. You will not be asking for help but rather asking for information; nonetheless, you will be receiving help. For some this may be a refreshing activity and for all it is a key productive activity.
Maintain a balance
As with any endeavor of importance, a job search is a demanding task. It is a full time job. But you must get away from it and be involved with other activities. Remember the old adage “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and Jill a dull girl.” So get away from it by participating in hobbies, social or other activities so that you maintain a balance in your life.
Forty to fifty hours per week on your job search should be enough – then you must give yourself a break.
Most people have a concern about their financial well being when faced with job loss. Now is the proper time to take prudent actions to minimize any financial problems. Worrying about financial problems will not accomplish anything but will only slow or stall your job search – a counterproductive action to take at any time. Ignoring the situation can lead to serious trouble later. Deal with the situation in a straightforward manner and then proceed with your job search.
There will be many financial activities to attend to with a job loss. The company you left will work with you on several issues. One of the most immediate concerns will be continuing your health care coverage through COBRA or purchasing a third party policy. Work with the Human Resources staff at your former company to learn about and exercise your options. There will be several other things to deal with including your 401K, retirement plan, etc. Find a qualified financial planner to help you.
If you receive a lump sum retirement plan payoff, lump sum severance or other large benefits payoff this too might pose a problem and should be addressed. A financial planner can help.
Whether you are long or short on cash at the moment, competent financial planning advice is probably an excellent idea.
The Economy and Unemployment
We have all seen statistics on unemployment. But those are statistics. Whether the economy is growing or shrinking, jobs are filled one job at a time. All you need to concern yourself with is to get the one job that is right for you.
Instead of worrying about statistics, keep in mind that, regardless of the economy and how few or how many job opportunities exist at the present, you only need one job.Just concentrate on finding the one job that fits you and let the politicians and economists worry about the statistics. OK, so that may sound like another platitude – but it is also very true!
Stress is common during a job search. Unfortunately there are many sources of stress. You may be under stress from any number of factors even before your employment status changed. Since stress can hinder the effectiveness of your job search, it is a good idea to get some understanding of the level of stress you may be under.
You can help reduce stress by following the pointers on maintaining good physical and mental conditioning covered in the preceding pages.
Many people who have lost their jobs need a little time to decompress – to wind down. If you are angry, exhausted or have other problems, see your doctor and take other steps to regain your composure.
We are not talking about a two-month hiatus here, just a sufficient amount of time to adjust so you can conduct a productive search.
Weekly Planning – a roadmap for your search
Creating a weekly plan in writing, using a planning form, will prove to be an invaluable process. Its purpose is twofold. The plan helps you stay on track by taking a snapshot of what you have accomplished during the previous week and setting up a course of action for the coming week to maximize your productivity. When working with a mentor, the planning form will help communicate how you are spending your time and how well you are organized for the upcoming week.
Work on the planner after things slow down late in the day on Friday or over the weekend. Then you will be ready to roll on Monday. Don’t wait until Monday morning to decide what you want to accomplish that day and the rest of the week.
Complete a Weekly Plan each week. Create a form that will work well for you; one that helps you to set aggressive goals and helps you to track your progress. See the planning form at the end of this chapter for ideas on how to create a form that works for you.
There are several things you should pay attention to immediately, things that may serve you best if you handle them quickly.
Before any more time passes, gain control of as many of the documents as you can that will be valuable to you for your resume, networking and interviewing. These documents may include items such as: old resumes, business cards of professional acquaintances, association membership rosters, portfolios of creative work, performance appraisals, job descriptions, special projects, financial reports, agendas, commendation letters, certificates, awards, etc.
If you are still employed and have been notified that your job will be cut, you will have access to certain office files. Be aware that you should only take items from your office with permission. If you have already separated from your previous job, ask for this information; most employers will comply.
You should learn what your former company is going to say when a potential employer checks your references.
Most companies have a policy regarding what information may be provided in the event that a reference check is being made on a former employee. The caller may be referred to a Human Resources department. They usually gives little information, perhaps only verifying job title, dates of employment and eligibility for rehire. But that is policy, not particularly the practice of most managers. If the reference checker establishes rapport with the former employee’s manager or associates, and especially if they are acquaintances, much more information is usually shared.
You should do what you can do in a low-key manner to find people who are able and willing to give you a good reference regarding your employment over the past ten years. Include your bosses, a couple of their bosses and two or three peers in your own area and in other areas of your company. Also include two or three subordinates.
Do not assume a person will give you a great reference just because he or she may be your friend. Even friends are often tripped up by a good reference checker and end up giving a bad reference when they think they are providing assistance in the area of developmental needs.
Do not simply ask your contacts if they are willing to provide a reference. Ask “what kind of reference can you give? What can you say about me.” If it is good, then:
If you have been provided office space at an outplacement firm as a part of your separation from your employer, some logistical problems will have been solved for you. But you may still want to read this section for some ideas on creating an efficient workspace and creating a professional phone presence at home.
You should ensure that you project a professional image during your search. The first contact with most people during your search is on the phone. Make certain that your end is handled properly.
1. Professional phone presence. Potential employers expect your telephone image to reflect the real you. They may realize you are calling from home, but you should never sound like you are at home. Windows open to lawn mower noise, soaps playing, dishwashers running in the background or the noise of children all create negative images.
Handle the telephone as professionally as you would in your former office.
2. Access. Will the employer call back if they cannot reach you? Any phone number you use during your job search must remain active during the entire job search. If for any reason you change phone numbers during a search, the caller may assume that you have taken another job and therefore may not attempt to contact you at the new number announced by the telephone company recording.
If you are still employed or have outplacement assistance but also realize that it might end before you land your next job, then you may not want to put that phone number on you resume. Continuity of contact information is that important. Putting your home and cell phone numbers on your resume can alleviate that potential problem.
3. Messages taken at home by family or friends. You must arrange to receive accurate messages. Who will be answering your phone? Are there any young children answering who do not know how to take an accurate message? Will teenagers let a call waiting signal beep three or four times before responding? Many think that three call waiting signals mean the caller is hearing three rings while they are actually hearing as many as ten. Will a caller leave a message to “Call Bob Smith at Best Employer, Inc., 314-555-7900″ and you get the message to “Call Bob?” Will you miss an interview opportunity? Do not assume an employer will call back – they usually don’t.
Ensure that anyone taking messages knows how to handle call waiting promptly, writes down any messages accurately and reads the message back to the caller to check its accuracy.
4. Answering machines and voicemail. How often will an employer call back if you have no answering machine or voicemail? You must arrange for some method of getting messages. An answering machine is the most common method but voicemail is far better.
The greeting the caller hears should be straightforward and professional and in your voice. Employers are not impressed by cute greetings from daughter Suzie and son Tommy. One employer called a candidate at home to extend an offer for a Vice President position. When the employer heard an unprofessional message, he decided not to extend the offer – imagine the negative impression when an unprofessional message creates the “first impression.”
Call Notes is an ideal solution for messages during a job search. It is even more effective when you have mailboxes for each family member.
5. Call waiting and additional phone lines. Call waiting is both a blessing and a curse. It is great when you are ordering a pizza or taking a message for a family member when a potential employer is trying to reach you. But it is not so great if a personal call interrupts when you are talking with a networking contact or potential employer.
Call Notes is effective in this instance since the second call will bounce to Call Notes if you do not respond to the call waiting signal.
An effective solution to these problems, if you can afford it, is to get a second line, with voicemail, to be used exclusively for your job search.
If you do not have access to an outside office during normal business hours, you need some type of work place in your home. Best would be a private study in your home – a home office. But your “office” can be any area that allows you to work uninterrupted. Perhaps you have a room in the basement, a spare room upstairs, or some other acceptable space. It must have a door to keep noise and distractions away during the day and to be able to close when you “go home” after finishing in the afternoon or evening.
Whatever area you choose to work in should have all the basics. A solid table can substitute for a desk. Any form of file drawer, file cabinet or portable file box can be used as an effective filing system. A good chair is as important as good lighting. Have the basic office supplies such as pens, pencils, paper etc. etc. You need access to word processing, email and the Internet. Of course your telephone should be located in your new “office.”
Do not consider that you don’t have a job – you do. And your job search is a full time job. Most likely you worked 40 to 50 hours per week on the job you recently left, maybe even 60 or more. You may not work 50 or 60 hours per week on your job search, but it is easily a 40-hour per week endeavor. Treat your search as a full time job; you will build momentum and you will find a better job and find it faster.
The typical job search is a difficult and sometimes lengthy project. How difficult? How lengthy? Only God knows. But many things can be done to help with the focus, direction and effectiveness of your campaign to help shorten the search. But even the best run job search campaigns have lots of ups and downs and are filled with plenty of “no’s” before you get to the “Yes” you are looking for. Assume God has a plan for you and knows how many “no’s” you will have to collect. Then collect them as fast as you can and you will get to the “YES” faster.
Some of the “ no’s” may be yours as you stand firm on following the course you set. But most “no’s” will be from potential employers, networking contacts, etc. If you are ready for this to happen, then you can look at each “no” as bringing you one step closer to the eventual YES. Such an attitude can make a day which has brought some disappointment seem a lot better when you consider that you are now closer to that eventual “YES.”
You will experience a lot of rejection during your search. It comes in the form of unreturned phone calls, unhelpful networking contacts and, of course, unsuccessful interviews. Even the best job search campaigns look a little like this:
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, and, finally “YES”.
The objective is to collect the “no’s” as quickly as possible and get the “YES” you are looking for.
People work most effectively when they follow a regular schedule. Follow a schedule that works best for you. Plan tomorrow before you finish for the day. Then, tomorrow, follow that plan. Avoid interruptions like the plague – whether caused by others or yourself. Now is not the time to allow well-honed work discipline to fall apart. You need every advantage during the search and self-discipline is a major advantage.
Be on guard about getting involved with unproductive activity even if it is job related. The most productive activity is talking with someone in person or on the phone. Next would be other forms of communication including sending letters and email. Of course many other things are necessary in conducting a job search but don’t get caught in the trap of doing them to the exclusion of the personal contacts. Elect to call another contact instead of checking Monster for the third time today to see if a new job has been posted.
You DO have a job!
Your job is to find a job. And it is a full time job. When you “go to work” in the morning, nothing should be allowed to distract you. Guard against developing poor work habits. Well-meaning friends and family members sometime seem to think you have nothing to do and can therefore do chores, run errands and go fishing.
Get up early every workday. Dressing for work helps most people during their job search. Do not let others ask you to do things that you would not have been able to do before – you cannot – you have a full time job. Concentrate on the job search and do not give in to the temptations of distractions.
Here is the detailed weekly planning form mentioned earlier in the chapter. Some of the lines may not show until printed. The link will open in a new window.
There are a multitude of activities and results to juggle during your search. This Weekly Plan form has been designed and tested to plan and track the major steps and activities you must manage. The most important thing to remember is that you must plan to make the most of your time and proceed effectively toward your goal.
The major benefits of using this form, or a form of your own design, are:
We strongly recommend that you complete a written plan each week sometime between mid-afternoon Friday and early Monday. If you do, you will be well prepared for the week. You may not initially find parts of this process helpful but we encourage that you prepare all parts, at least for a few weeks. We expect that you will find it to be valuable and see the value of continuing.
Focus each week on the highly productive parts of the job search process – talking with people on the phone and meeting with people. Doing research and writing letters is important and necessary, but real results come from contact with people.
During any week of your search you will have some things go well and others poorly. The form may help you may detect a pattern of low activity or poor results in a specific area. If so, it’s better that it has come to your attention so you can do something about it.
Good luck on landing that one right job for you.