Month by month, the job market keeps easing upward. Although we haven’t fully made up the number of jobs that were lost in this recession, almost every industry has grown jobs since the economy hit rock bottom in February 2010. And there are plenty of new kinds of jobs that have been created since then, too.
Now this optimism is starting to spread. People who stayed glued to their jobs during the downturn are starting to dip their toes in the water to see if there is a new position out there for them. But while they have been hunkered down waiting for the recession to pass, the job market has been changing. If you have been at the same organization for five or more years, you are in danger of making some big mistakes that can completely derail your job search. Here’s a handful of those pitfalls and how to avoid them.
You have an inflated expectation of what you’re worth. If you have worked for the last five years with little or no increase in pay, you may feel angry or resentful. Zero to one percent was pretty standard for many workers during the recession, and there was actually wage deflation during this period. The PayScale Index for Q3 notes that in real terms wages in the United States have gone down 7%.
However harsh the reality is, take a long, cold look at what kind of salary you can realistically command. It may well be less than you expect. To research that, you can use online sources like PayScale or Glassdoor, and sometimes an organization’s website. But if you want to be sure, ask a headhunter, talk to people in your professional association, or find friends who have just landed similar jobs. Real people will be straight with you.
You use old-fashioned search techniques. In the last five years, job boards have been going the way of newspaper ads. Now, recruiters proactively use social media to identify potential candidates instead of waiting for resumes to come in. If you don’t have a social media presence – on LinkedIn, Twitter, or your own website – you aren’t likely to get noticed.
For example, when Andy started his job search as a senior manager in marketing for a major nonprofit, he hadn’t taken the time to create a compelling online presence for himself – he didn’t think he needed to. However, when he ran into obstacles in his job search, he chose to beef up his LinkedIn presence. He added as many contacts and colleagues as he could – including vendors – posted some samples of his work, and solicited some endorsements. Snatching the opportunity to update his skills in his field, he took a seminar in SEO analytics and put that on his LinkedIn profile, which LinkedIn immediately sent out to all his contacts. That produced some email congratulations and ultimately the contacts that won him his next job.
You present yourself as more junior than you really are. You have more skills and experience since the last time you were on the job market. Conveying all that is more than adding another job to the top of your old resume: Think through how you frame yourself. Junior people present themselves as hard-working, energetic, and quick to learn. They are looking for a way into a career and will say yes to most offers. People who are more senior present themselves as experienced, thoughtful, strategic, accountable, and targeted. They know what they want and will have the common sense to say no when a position or company doesn’t feel right.
If you are a mid-career or senior professional, make sure your resume and interview techniques don’t make you look junior. In Beverley’s case, her job itself caused her to understate her accomplishments. As a hospital administrator, she had to facilitate strong medical personalities. She would never have been as successful if she boasted to them about her accomplishments. But on the job market, she had to present herself more as senior and effective, and less as friendly and eager to help. Fortunately she was active in amateur theatricals, and was told to “answer their questions as if you were playing a queen.” She got the change immediately.
You waste time blaming the gate-keepers. Where there used to be human resources reps filtering an applicant’s access to jobs, there are now software programs that make the first cut at the resumes and screen for the hiring manager’s wish list of specifications. While it used to be tough getting a job by responding to an ad, it’s now close to impossible. There is no one to call, no way to follow up, and worst of all, no one to blame. So don’t waste your time on negative feelings. Get creative. Write a letter directly to the CEO. Walk in and apply in person. I have one client who went through her doctor to get in contact with a hiring manager at a hospital, another who solicited donations to a college that he and the hiring manager both went to. Just don’t send presents. That’s a real red flag.
When you think about it, there is not much difference between someone who has not taken a look at the job market in five years and someone who has returned to work after a five-year assignment in another country, or someone who is returning to work after staying home with children for five years. The key to success is to assume things have changed, do some careful data gathering about what those changes are, and be patient and creative about fitting yourself back in.