Job Search “Stall Points”

Searches are difficult things. It’s rare for your first opportunity to be exciting and the target to fall in love with you. If your search persists and things aren’t going as you might have hoped, it’s time to assess where you really are in your search. It’s important to be brutally honest with yourself.

My advice is to treat this like a consulting/performance improvement project. If the goal is “satisfying employment” then:

0 – Be honest with yourself and get feedback

More specific advice to follow, but if you don’t really want to improve, don’t waste everyone else’s time. Also – don’t delude yourself about how much effort this takes.

Example – I’ll have students say they’re networking and then tell me they talked to 2 people this week and sent 3 emails. That’s not really “putting your shoulder into it” in my opinion.

It’s hard and emotionally draining. But you have to do it if you want to get better and break through.

1 – Break down the process into its phases

It will resemble a sales funnel or pipeline:

For sales it looks like:

Leads > Opportunities/Qualified Leads > Quotes/Proposals > Deals

Adapted for job search we can think of it as:

Connections > Opportunities & Support > Interviews > Offers

Connections can be defined as “how many people have you reached out to or had preliminary contact with?” This is the front end of your pipeline. You need to have a reasonable amount of activity here or the rest won’t matter.

Opportunities & Support is “how many people are you actually getting meetings, calls or tangible support from?” I am being intentionally vague. I’ll count an email, phone call, cup of coffee. Anything that represents meaningful contact from your end qualifies.

You could break this into two categories if you wanted to: “how many met with me?” vs. “how many took action on my behalf?”

I just had someone observe how differently people have treated them during their search process. Someone that week had offered lots of advice, but almost shut down when asked for introductions to others in their network. Other have been incredibly gracious at opening doors.

Interviews seem self-explanatory. Usually you’ll know them when you see them. There may be times when “informational interviews” turn into job interviews. Good for you. Count it. It means they were impressed and moved you through several phases in a few minutes.

Offers are exciting. You’ll know when you get one. 🙂

Take the time to quantify and qualify how much activity you’re having at each gate. How formal you want to be is up to you, but the better data you bother to collect the more potential insight you may have into challenges.

2 – Assess where your biggest challenge is

2a. This comes down to prioritizing issues. You can’t solve too many things at once, so how do you knock off your most important obstacle(s)? Well, it’s important to know what they are.

Focus on what matters. I have a lot of people ask me for resume feedback. I usually ask “are you getting meetings and interviews?” If yes, your resume is good enough. It’s a piece of marketing communication about yourself. If you’re cutting through the clutter and getting access to people, it may not be the best place to invest time.

(Personal opinion – some folks obsess waayyy too much about resumes. Beyond where it’s useful. I always wonder is their thought process “I can’t break through it must be my resume!” Well maybe…)

Let’s look at a sampling of potential issues you face at each gate.

Gate Connections Opportunities & Support Interviews Offers
Issues Existing network

Resume

Cover Letter

“Presence”

Focus

Clarity

Telling your story

Ability to gain and leverage support

Existing network

Preparation

Experience

“Presence”

Telling your story

 Internal Support/ Connections

Being the best candidate

Being the least risky candidate

Demonstrating “fit”

Willingness to move

Appearance

Based on how far you’re getting in the pipeline, you have a rough diagnosis of where to spend your time.

2b. You’ll need to dig into specifics at this point.

I won’t go into too much depth here, as this could be a book topic, but below are a few examples of how you might assess yourself.

Connections Phase problems are often about lack or effort (too few connections) or poor handling of potential connections (resume, cover letter, positioning, relevance).

Failing to turn connections into potential opportunities for either interviews or tangible support can result from bad technique on informational interviews, genuine poor fit in an industry or role you are targeting, lack of professionalism and a host of other causes.

Stalling out in the interview phase for example could be the result of a number of things. Are you making a good impression? Are you prepared with a good sense of the organization and their needs? What kind of interviews are you getting – are they ones where you’re likely to shine?

Not breaking through to offers could be a problem with your positioning, your story, lack of conviction in interest, inability to demonstrate what people saw on paper, not convincing them that you’ll move, seeming a poor “fit”. Any of these could be the issue.

Example 1: I have interviewed hundreds of people for a variety of jobs in consulting, general management, non-profit and public sector organizations. I was recently on a committee where, after a long interview, we all looked at each other and wondered if that was the same person we saw on paper. The candidate was nice enough, but was unable to articulate much of what had been committed to print in resume and cover letter.  Needless to say, they didn’t get an offer.

Takeaway: Project the professional presence and appropriate level of managerial thinking.

Example 2: When I led recruiting for a corporate staff group at 3M, I would ask candidates where else they were looking. When they told me strategy consulting firms, I dropped them as poor “fit”. We were really different and they would have either A) not taken our offer if they got the other or B) taken ours if they didn’t get the other. Either way, my firm was on the short end so we were pretty clear about our hiring targets.

Take-away: Understand what your target organizations are looking for.

So get feedback where you can and be honest with yourself where you can’t.

3 – Attack it!

Not to oversimplify, but get after the issue. If it’s interviewing, find friends who can give good feedback based on relevant experience. Hire a coach if you need to. (I’d be careful here, as feedback is very often non-specific or overly formulaic. Get a good recommendation from someone you respect.)

For example – On resume’s I have different feedback than lots of folks, but I’ve also been a hiring manager in several organizations. I can give you a pretty good idea what a University, F500 Manufacturer or Management Consulting firm is looking for. When we get into Banking, I’m “ok”, but I direct people to colleagues with far more direct expertise.  

Build a measureable plan and timeline with specific steps to track. Without this, most of us flounder. Find a friend or colleague you trust to bring into your process and get them to help you commit be holding you accountable.

4 – Reassess after a period

Based on progress, determine if you’ve really knocked down the issue and can move on or need to keep grinding.

The upside is that once you get better, you can put it into maintenance mode. You don’t forget things you’ve learned. You may need a little sharpening at times, but once learned many of these skills are long-term assets.

None of this is easy, by the way. But you have to keep at it if you want to be happy with your career.

4 thoughts on “Job Search “Stall Points”

  1. Thank you for posting this! I’ve been looking for permanent work for 8 months, and I eagerly collect job search advice. After searching for so long, it’s easy to fall into a routine, and this is the shot in the arm I need. Thanks again!

    • Megan – Stay on it. Life is hard, but usually diligence pays off. The key in my opinion is to be hard headed with yourself about where you’re struggling and then work on that. Let me know if you have any questions and good luck!

  2. Great article Phil! Could you elaborate more on “informational interview technique”? What should I do if I want to turn it into a possible future job opportunity? In another way of saying, get jobs through networking instead of applying to job posting online. Any old posts you could reference me to? Thanks a lot!

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