If at first you don’t succeed…

I wrote in earlier posts about career choice and setting direction. This post is about how to make it happen. You may have decided what you want to do, but getting an employer to hire you is your next challenge. Recruiters are busy. The recruiter likely has more than one qualified and interested candidate. How do you stand out and get chosen?

You know the routine for applying for jobs, but maybe you need to up your game. If at first you don’t succeed, how do you try, try again in a more effective way?


Basic Applying: Scan the job ads.

Really Trying:

  • Network to get ideas and access open positions that don’t get advertised. Use LinkedIn or your alumni network to find people who you can contact for information. Talk to the people with whom you network about your career orientation and ask for further contacts.
  • Identify some companies that you find interesting and join their talent pool – more and more companies have Facebook/LinkedIn pages, Twitter feeds and even dedicated apps just for job search. You can follow them online and be among the first to know when there are opportunities.
  • Participate in the industry community. Go to industry events to be up on the issues, contribute to industry blogs, share articles and ideas on Twitter – all of these activities give you visibility to more contacts outside of your network and show your commitment

2. BE PREPARED Basic Applying: Read the job description.

Really Trying:

  • Get background information about the company and more context of the job – not just facts and figures on the company website but see what you can learn about their culture and the current issues they face:
  • Find articles about the organisation and its industry. Find out who their competitors are and what they are doing.
  • Check online sources. Nowadays, companies are spoonfeeding us information about themselves in their blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube channels and LinkedIn and social network pages.
  • Talk to people who know. You can probably reach an employee of the target company or their competitor within 2 or 3 degrees of separation on LinkedIn to try to get more information or support.

3. BE UNDERSTOOD Basic Applying: Send a CV that lists off your past responsibilities.

Really Trying:

  • The recruiter wants to understand the context of your responsibilities, the achievements and the skills and knowledge you can now bring to the new job. Explain your experiences using the STAR method: not just your responsibilities but the Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
  • Your CV is your marketing document. Are you getting your message across about what you are ‘selling’? For example, if you say “Managed a team of 3 to rollout a new haircare product across Europe”, what are you asking them to conclude about you? That you know the European haircare market? That you can negotiate, organise tasks, work cross-culturally? What does this experience mean? Tell them the ‘so what’. When you leave it to their imagination, you risk them coming to the wrong conclusions.
  • Be sure that you use terms and references that are commonly understood outside of your former company or industry.

4. BE RELEVANT Basic Applying: Attach a cover letter that explains all about you and why you want the job.

Really Trying:

  • Your cv shows the range of experiences and interests you have but the cover letter should highlight ONLY the things the recruiter cares about, not the things you find interesting about you.
  • Check your assumptions about what is relevant. I remember I would get letters from candidates saying “I’ve done x, y z and therefore I’d be perfect for you.” And I would be thinking, “If you think that’s perfect, then clearly you don’t understand the job.”
  • Write about what you want to contribute to the employer, not why the job would be good for you
  • If you’ve been ‘really trying’ as above, use the letter to highlight the efforts you have made and show your passion and commitment: “I talked to Bob in your organisation and…”; “I recently attended an industry event where…”; “I follow your company online and see that recently…”
  • As guru Daniel Porot always says – your cover letter should address YOU-ME-WE – in the first part: write about the organisation and the job (YOU); in the second part: write about how your experience is relevant (ME); in the third part (WE): build the vision of your potential contribution to the job and the organisation.

5. BE SEEN Basic Applying: Send in your written application and wait for a reply.

Really Trying:

  • Try to contact the recruiter or others in the organisation before sending in your application. Get more information, show your interest. When they receive your written application, you want them to recognise you and take an interest in reading it.
  • Recruiters have their processes and will get back to you when they are ready but it is still good to follow up, to reiterate your interest and to provide additional information, respectfully and with enthusiasm.
  • In addition to your cv and cover letter, find other ways for them to see you – online, at events, through mutual contacts. By following up and contacting others in an organisation, it shows your persistence, your interest, your passion to make it happen.

6. BE APPLYING! Basic Applying: Apply to a job and wait to see how it goes before moving on to the next one.

Really Trying:

  • Even when things are looking good, keep casting out lines for new opportunities. You need to be confident about your candidacy, but not over-confident about being the selected candidate. Being selected is not just about whether you fit, but how you stack up against the other candidates. Even if you seem perfect for the job and the interview went really well, don’t wait around to see if things work out before applying to the next opportunity. It creates stress while you wait and even more stress if it doesn’t work out.
  • When you focus on job searching, rather than getting a particular job, you focus on the part of the process that is in your control.

So, if at first you don’t succeed,think about how you can ‘really try’ again. Maybe you weren’t targeting your message correctly. Or they didn’t quite see what you had to offer. Or maybe they had too much email that day. Or maybe you weren’t the right person for the job. Where and how you make the effort in your job search can make a big difference. That’s a message that many job searchers don’t want to hear: What can you be doing to get a better result?

I’d love to hear any stories or ideas about your job search experiences and the different things you’ve tried. What has worked for you?

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