Few things in life generate as much stress as beginning to start your job search. I work with this topic on a daily basis under a contract with the Department of Labor and in coordination with the Defense Department, the VA and the Department of Homeland Security. We teach service members and their spouses the key aspects of the job search process as they prepare to retire or separate from the military and seek employment in the private sector or in government service.
There is so much written on the topic and so much that can be said – this is my effort to cull all the advice out there down to the essential elements.
First Things First
The successful job search begins with an “internal” analysis. We should spend the time to think about ourselves before we start looking outward at industries and companies. The more we understand what makes us tick – or perhaps more importantly in the job search process, what makes us happy – the better our chances of landing the job that gives us the best chance at long-term success.
Here are a few important elements to consider:
1. Manage Stress
It’s important to understand and acknowledge that the stress you feel when you start your job search is normal and palpable. My first piece of advice is to find a good stress reduction program that works for you – physical fitness, time away or spending time with “positive” people are some ways to mitigate the negative effects of this stress.
You won’t eliminate the stress – nor would you want to – but you can take positive steps to control it. Once under control, your confidence will rise and you will be in a much better position to attack the job market. You will still have butterflies in your stomach, but they’ll be flying in formation!
2. Assess Your Priorities
Conduct an internal or self-analysis. Take the time – while at this significant juncture in your professional life – to consider yourself and your interests and values.
What are your preferences in terms of where you want to work, what part of the country (or the world), indoors or outside; an office, a plant floor, or a classroom? Do you like to work alone or with people? Do you want to supervise or not? Be as honest with yourself as you can – this is no time to work hard to find the best job you really don’t want!
3. Know Yourself
Identify your strengths and challenges. Play to your strengths and look for opportunities in areas that fit your abilities. Unless you are very young and looking for your first job, you may not be too interested in going someplace to learn a new skill. In fact, most employers won’t be too interested in hiring you just so they can teach you a new skill.
They will be interested in you for what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. If you have specific areas that need work and you know that those shortcomings may be holding you back, take the necessary steps now to overcome them and move them over to the strength column.
For example, maybe you are not as comfortable as you would like to be as a public speaker. Investigate Toastmasters and have fun while overcoming a fear.
4. Get Organized
Get organized early. This will speed up the process and can help you land the job you want. I have seen so many job seekers NOT get the job they wanted because they were unable to produce the document or locate the information the prospective employer needed at the time of the interview. Don’t be that person.
Gather all pertinent materials and create what I call an “I Love Me” binder. Start with a box and include copies of old employee evaluation reports, certificates, diplomas, transcripts, “attaboys” or anything else that tells the story of you. Once it’s all in one place, organize it. This process is critical to preparing a great résumé, so start now. Yes, now.
Come back once you have gathered up all that material and started your “I Love Me” binder – I’ll wait…