26 October 2012

Getting a new job is difficult at the best of times. Right now, it's even harder.

So how do you get a new job when so many are struggling? Whinging about it on Facebook won't help. However, I will. Read on.

1. Understand what each stage of the process is about

Too many people send off their CVs trying to get a job. That's not the point. A CV is not to get you a job, it's to get you an interview. The interview is what is going to get you the job - and it might come down to the second or even third interview.

You might say 'What difference does it make? It's all part of the same process.' Yes, but you need to have a very clear idea about what your CV is going to do - and that's to make the employer stop, look at it, and put it in the 'shortlist' pile. 

That means it doesn't have to convince them you're right for the job - it means it has to stand out from every other CV that's landed in their inbox that day. So, for example, it needs to have a personal statement that doesn't suck and shouldn't include these 7 1/2 things that don't belong on a CV

And yes, I know I'm biased, but a career break really is one of those things that makes your CV stand out. Mainly because you've got off your backside and done something challenging, useful and different, while everyone else stayed at home and complained that the X Factor wasn't as good this year.

2. Figure out where you're going wrong

You've probably seen those dreary news stories about unemployment - there's always a person who says 'I've applied for 200 jobs and not even got an interview'. 

If you do something 200 times and it doesn't work, why are you still doing it?!

Similarly, we hear from people who say they don't have trouble getting an interview but then never seem to get the job. 

If you find you fall at the same hurdle every time, you're doing something wrong. I don't know what that is, but if you're reading this you're at least trying to fix it, so score one for you. Here are some suggestions as to why you can't get an interview:

  • You're applying for the wrong jobs. You're over- or under-qualified, or you're changing career and you haven't worked out how to demonstrate you have transferable skills (it's alright, there's a comprehensive blog post on transferable skills here).
  • Your CV sucks. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it probably does. Most do (I've seen loads). On the plus side, it means that if you make yours not suck you'll land an interview so fast you'll barely have time to iron your trousers. How to make it not suck? Go to a professional CV writer.
  • Your cover letter/email sucks. See everything we said about CVs above. Oh and one other thing, if you're emailing your CV, don't attach the cover letter as a separate attachment. Why would you do that? It's weird.

If you're failing at the interview stage, there are all sorts of things that could be going wrong, from the fact that you're too pretty or ugly (yes, those are real things that stop people getting a job) or you lack confidence. The only way to fix this is to get some interview practice - if you can't afford a career coach, ask an older, sensible person you know to interview you and give you feedback. Preferably someone who's hired lots of successful people.

3. Use different methods to find a job

Finding a job ad online or in the paper then sending off your CV is the single worst way of applying for a job. Why? Because it's so competitive. Some of those job ads get hundreds of replies, and most of those won't be looked at because the recruiter simply doesn't have time (well, not if they want to pop into Marks & Spencer's for a meal deal on the way home, and let's face it, who doesn't?).

By applying for a job, you're automatically going up against lots of other people, most of whom will suck (as outlined above) but some of whom will be a better fit for the job than you. I'm not saying never do it, I'm just saying it's not the best investment of your time.

One excellent way of finding a job is networking. If you don't have anyone in your social circle to network with, Google some local networking groups and see what events are on. Once you've signed up for a session, put your best clothes on, get yourself some business cards, and read some tips on networking before you go. It's not all about seeing how many business cards you can collect (although that is a fun game if the event is a bit boring). Most importantly - tell everyone you are looking for a job

Don't forget about online networking as well. LinkedIn is one of the best known online networking sites - a lot of the careers people we follow on Twitter rave about it (and share useful tips on how to make the most of it). 

The other good way to find a job is to find a company you want to work for and contact them saying you want to work for them. Before you put paw to keyboard, give the company a call and ask who you should send your CV to - unless you get a named person you might as well not bother. As with a normal job application, you should be specific about what you can offer the company. No-one cares that you need a job to buy Mr Chips premium brand cat food - they want to see how you are going to benefit them.

4. Treat the interview as a date

Well, not literally, we don't expect you to sink 4 Cosmopolitans then start crying about why your last partner ditched you for someone thinner (what do you mean, that's just me?). 

No, what I mean by this, is that an interview is a 2-way process. It's not just about trying to make them like you enough to give you money on a regular basis. It's also to see if you like them, their office, their culture, and of course, if the job is what you want. This is really hard if you're desperate for a job - but the upside is that it makes you look like you're not desperate.

You'll impress the interviewer if you ask sensible questions and look keen to get an understanding of the job and the workplace. Don't forget, s/he is a person too and will appreciate anything you do that makes them feel interesting, less knackered, less nervous, etc (yes interviewers get nervous too!). Top tip - if there are photos of kids in the office, show some interest. People love talking about their families.

5. Follow up

If you've sent your CV or an application and heard nothing, it's absolutely fine to give them a call - just say you want to make sure they received it. Then get off the phone, they are busy. 

Regarding interviews, you don't have to send lavish gifts afterwards (unless it's me interviewing you, in which case a box of Charbonnel & Walker will do nicely thank you). A simple email thanking the interviewer is another thing that makes you stand out from all the other interviewees who probably won't bother. It's also not a bad idea to ask another question in the email, as it shows you've been thinking about things on the way home.

6. If all else fails...

Try something new and different. Start a blog about job-hunting and see if it gets popular, or do a course to get some new skills. Make a video CV to email to prospective employers, or try a publicity stunt. Or if you're willing to give up being an employee altogether, you could do something really different and take a career break (you knew that was going to come up again) or start your own business. Whatever you decide, good luck, and keep us posted!


This article was written by Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, founder of The Career Break Site. She has worked on tons of CVs, interviewed lots of people for jobs, and most importantly, helped people like you take a career break.