This is the season for New Year’s resolutions, though I’m not a fan. Resolutions don’t always work because they’re often too vague. Lose weight, stop smoking, start exercising, get a new job. How do you begin to tackle these big, amorphous goals? To achieve long-term success, goals need a blueprint with an achievable action plan.
For many in the rapidly approaching new year, there’s uncertainty about the professional way forward, as record numbers of people reconsider career choices. In order to create a blueprint, preliminary action steps might involve taking an inventory of the most important criteria for a new path. But whether you’re looking at a lateral move, a career pivot or complete reinvention, the bedrock of a successful job search is the ability to dynamically portray your professional background to the outside world. At a minimum, this means an up-to-date resume and LinkedIn profile and a compelling oral narrative – also known as your pitch. Depending on your career track, it might also entail a portfolio. If you’re resolved to ramp up your job search in the new year, be intentional and consider the following concrete ways to move into gear.
write an impactful resume
You should think of your resume as a marketing document. While it’s important for your resume to be accurate, it doesn’t need to include every granular detail of your professional life unless it’s in the service of telling your story. Keep your work history limited to the past 15-20 years and focus on the skills and experience most relevant to the roles to which you are applying. Resumes reflect trends, and the current trend is for resumes to be no longer than two pages, and to start with a summary statement of two or three sentences that highlight your accomplishments.
When constructing your resume, try to incorporate not only the tasks you’ve completed over the years, but the value and impact they’ve had on the organizations where you’ve worked. Quantitative results stand out to hiring managers. Let’s say, as a hypothetical example, your field is digital marketing. In addition to listing your experience producing social media campaigns, highlight the impact of these campaigns. If exact figures are available, add how many new readers each campaign generated and the prominence they brought to the brand. If your resume has made it past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), it is likely to be scanned quickly by a recruiter or hiring manager. To encourage them to give it a second, more detailed pass, it’s important for your professional high points to be easily consumable with plenty of white space around them.
use linkedin to your advantage
LinkedIn is one of the most essential tools to incorporate into a job search. Not having a profile (with a photo) can be a red flag for many hiring managers. In a competitive job market, you don’t want to give a hiring manager or recruiter any reason to pass you by.
While a resume is brisk and often doesn’t use pronouns, LinkedIn provides more of an opportunity to tell your professional story. Best of all, you can write your description in the first person. As with your resume, a successful LinkedIn profile includes a strong summary statement, which goes in the ‘About’ section. During the process of writing your summary statement, consider reviewing the ‘About’ sections of other professionals in your industry to generate ideas.
Beyond building a strong LinkedIn profile, spend time inviting as many relevant contacts as possible to connect, as these connections will help you build a broad network for potential job opportunities. As you grow your LinkedIn network, it’s important to reach out to your contacts every so often to cultivate relationships. This can be as simple as congratulating a contact on a new role or commenting on an article one of your contacts shares on their feed.
Also reach out to colleagues and supervisors for brief testimonials to augment your credentials. LinkedIn streamlines the process of asking for recommendations and your contacts have the option to either simply endorse you for specific skills or craft a written recommendation to display on your profile.
practice your pitch
To prepare for interviews and networking meetings, you’ll want to relay your professional story with clarity, brevity and confidence. Depending on the audience and how well they know you, the basic components of your oral pitch include:
- an overview of your work history
- a highlight of your strengths
- how you bring unique value to your work
- specific examples that demonstrate these strengths and your unique value
Verbally highlighting these components should take no longer than a minute. While some job seekers might think they can wing their pitch, I don’t recommend it. Pitching is storytelling, with a beginning, middle and end. And it takes practice to get it right.
To get started building your pitch, write out the different components and edit them so that they seem connected in a seamless arc. Test out your pitch with friends, a mentor or other close contacts until it flows off your tongue and feels natural, but not overtly practiced. Looking back at our hypothetical digital marketer from earlier in the post, a pitch might read, ‘I am a digital marketing professional specializing in social media campaigns for entertainment properties. I’ve created award-winning viral experiences that communicate directly with audiences across multiple platforms, generating millions of page views. I consistently deliver on time and below budget and am excited to achieve this for a media company in my next role.’
create a target list of companies
A successful job search strategy requires a proactive mindset. Regularly searching job boards for appropriate listings is part of the strategy, but it’s not always the most important part, even though listings seem like the most intuitive and direct. A more effective plan of action would be to compile a list of target companies that are relevant to your work, whether these companies have current jobs posted or not. Once you have your list, search through your network to see if anyone can introduce you to a contact at the company. Circling back to LinkedIn, this is why it’s so important to have a broad network of connections, as the platform provides an easy search tool to see if your contacts know anyone in your target company.
As you set up your job search for success in the new year, it’s an ideal time to build this target list and develop a system to track your prospects. To start, challenge yourself to come up with at least five to 10 companies. If you’re stalling out on the list, jumpstart the project by doing an online search of top workplaces where you live. Depending on your field, you can refine the search by identifying the industry, such as ‘top tech companies in Seattle.’ You’ll likely come across lists such as top companies hiring in your area, as well as companies that have won awards for being great places to work.
elevate your brand
As you develop a target list of companies and connections to begin the process of reaching out, it’s vital to stay visible. And here is where LinkedIn is another indispensable outlet, providing many ways to interact and amplify your presence. The easiest approach is to add connections to your page, as described earlier. Also consider joining LinkedIn groups relevant to your job search and participating in discussions on group pages. These might include alumni groups from your university or former place of work, or groups focused on professionals in your local market or in your field of work.
Take it one step further by sharing a link to an article related to your work that you find interesting either on your page or in a group, along with some brief commentary or your point of view on the topic. Another strategy is to search your connections, find posts they’ve written or shared and leave a comment. Activities such as these will enhance the likelihood that others will see your page. And one of the people who sees your page might be a recruiter or a supervisor at one of your target companies, who might think of you for a job opening.
If writing is in your wheelhouse, draft an article that reflects your expertise and post it on your LinkedIn page. And if you think what you’ve written is particularly strong, consider pitching it to an outside publication. I’ve had a few of my articles published in Forbes. One of them caught the attention of a producer from NBC, who contacted me for a segment about women who have changed careers after 50. I had a career-topping moment when Maria Shriver interviewed me for my work as a career coach on The Today Show.
A career transition can be a time of pain and loss. It certainly was for me. While I was fielding rejections looking for work after decades in the film industry, I wondered if I’d ever find a job again. To my surprise, I discovered that a career transition has the potential for enormous opportunity. In my case, being on The Today Show was a wonderful affirmation of what had been a long and challenging journey.
take stock and take heart
As you approach the job search in this time of resolutions and renewal, reflect on what you’d really like a new job to bring. Is this finally the time to make a switch?
Build a list of the most important criteria, whether it’s more money, a flexible work schedule, working for a company whose mission aligns with your values or a job that affords a better work-life balance. And take heart, the first quarter of the year is historically the strongest time for hiring according to the Randstad RiseSmart Job Seeker study. With unprecedented low unemployment, companies are eager to find and retain talent, even if a candidate’s experience isn’t a perfect match. Among all the other expected activities that are necessary for a successful job search – from tending to your resume, LinkedIn page, pitch and target list – don’t forget what could be one of the most important activities of all: allowing yourself to dream.