You’ve likely heard the quip, “knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
From cooking to the job search, experience plays a major role on the path to effectiveness. The science, or “process”can be gleaned from a book, but true mastery comes through application, trial and error, and facing unique circumstances.
So if you’ve read the advice, but are still experiencing set-backs in your job search, maybe it’s the art that’s getting in your way.
In a job search, wisdom is:
Knowing when to get creative and when to play by the rules.
Everyone has that example of someone who put a CV on a billboard or a cake and landed a job. While you can always find an outlier, be careful to read beyond the headline. Sometimes you need to bend the rules to stand out (e.g., if you apply online, follow up with a call or email), but it’s important to understand your audience before doing something wild. The internet is a wealth of information, as are your contacts and instincts. There’s no “one size fits all,” so if you find you don’t have time to customize your approach to each target, you’re likely casting too broad of a net.
Knowing what (and when) to ask, and what (and when) not to.
Asking a brand new contact for a referral or job is an obvious blunder. However, there’s a lot of grey areas when it comes to networking, and unfortunately, there isn’t a playbook that covers every scenario. Your best bet is to develop your emotional intelligence, which (in part) is your ability to tune into others’ feelings. Then, pay attention for cues. Are they leaning in and dropping hints they know people who can help, or deflecting with brief responses and limited eye contact? Are they subtly indicating they’ll be seeing you again in the future, or checking their SmartPhone regularly?
Knowing what to keep and what to drop.
CVs (and LinkedIn Profiles) are no longer historical accounts of your past experiences. Rather, they’re a representation of a well-branded career story that demonstrates relevant value to your target audience. For many, this’ll include a major overhaul, including removing some achievements that don’t align with your focus. A good way to approach this is to pretend that every word on your CV costs £100 and you’re working on a budget. While you may be able to rationalise keeping some accomplishments when free of charge, this strategy will help you to be more discerning.
Knowing it’s critical to be honest, but not to share everything.
Part of a recruiter’s role is to make candidates feel comfortable – sometimes so comfortable, that they share more than they intend. While building relationships in the employment process is important, everything you share is taken into account when making a decision. So, if the HR Manager shares the gory details of her Vegas trip, there’s no need for you to. You don’t need to share your greatest weakness if asked. Rather pick something that’s not central to the job and demonstrate how you’re improving. And, you don’t need to highlight that you’re a switcher. They already know, so focus on showing how you can solve their toughest challenges with the skills you bring.
Knowing the only goal of a first meeting, is to get to the second meeting.
Whether in a phone screen or informational interview, the goal is always to get to the next meeting. Many job seekers make the mistake of believing this is their “one shot” to get it right, which adds undue pressure to an already stressful situation. Instead, focus on finding commonalities, communicating a few accomplishments briefly, and being curious about the other person. Going into a meeting with the goal of learning rather than sharing will be more valuable, especially in building relationships.
Knowing the relationship is more important than the task.
Your job search is your priority. It’s rarely the priority of others (even recruiters). While your contacts are likely willing to help, they’ll likely need to do it on their timeline, so be careful about expecting others to move mountains. The easier you are to help, the more help you’ll get. Also, relationships tend to outlast jobs. The average tenure in a role is 4.2 years. Strong connections can last a lifetime. So make your network a priority, and it’ll continue to be there when you need it.
Knowing when you have leverage and using it.
Although the recruitment process should feel like a two-way street, it usually doesn’t. The recruiter seems to have the upper hand, particularly when there are multiple candidates competing for a coveted role. The one time the recruiter will be in the hot seat is the short period between extending you an offer and when you officially accept. Yes, they’ll want you to accept on the spot and start ASAP, but this is your time to take a breath (for 2 – 3 days), and consider what you want. At no other time will you have this kind of leverage, so use it wisely.
Knowing when to follow up and when to quit.
Most people tend to linger in the tails of this bell curve, either skipping the follow up if they don’t get a reply, or reaching out incessantly. Neither is a good strategy, and it goes back to knowing your audience. People are busy, emails fall through the cracks, and days become weeks. Build follow-up into your plan. In fact, just assume you won’t get a response on the first try. This’ll decrease your anxiety about reaching out a second time (give it about two weeks). In terms of reaching out a third time, that’s where the lines muddy. Assess the problem and try resolve it. Is your message confusing? Are you using a social media platform they rarely frequent? Can you get a warm introduction to increase your odds? Is your subject line too generic (e.g., it looks like spam)?
Knowing when to take a risk and when to play it safe.
In general, I’m of the mindset of “follow your fear.” However, you need to take your full circumstances into account. Yes, everyone makes sacrifices for their dream, but if you’re battling a major health issue, this may not be the time to start your own company. If your teenagers are exploring universities, it may make sense to wait a few years before leaping to that role that pays half your salary. Of course, there are creative ways to handle obstacles. But, if you end up sacrificing more than you bargained for, you may find that your dream doesn’t make you happy.
If you’re not getting the results you’re after in your job search, don’t blame the science. It’s likely the subtle nuances that need to be tweaked, which comes through taking action, reflecting and making adjustments.