Being unemployed, underemployed or miserably-employed is difficult at any time. However, during the holidays, it can be particularly discouraging because you can feel like everyone else is having a "Happy Holidays!" and you are on the outside looking in.
However, as we begin a New Year, I would like to suggest that you take a deep breath, look to the future, and re-start your job search with renewed optimism and six concrete actions.
Action 1: Re-frame Your Job Search in Terms of Your Life
As you think about 2019, take some time to reconsider your job search in terms of your life, not just a paycheck. At Still Serving Veterans, we use the "Six C's" to guide this reflection.
Content. What kind of work do you want to do and do you not want to do?
Context. What kind of work setting you prefer?
Culture. What kind of organizational culture to you prefer?
Colleagues. What kind of people do you like to work with?
Constraints. What are the constraints that are influencing your job search? (physical, emotional, geographic, family, etc.)?
Compensation. What kind of money do you need to make? What kind of money do you want to make?
Also consider what are your best skills? What are skills you are good at, but don't want to do? What are skills that you aren't good at, but might want to learn?
Action 2: Refresh Your Resume
Everyone has an opinion on resumes and there is no "one size fits all" template. However, there are a couple of principles that apply to all resumes.
Keep them short. No resume, no matter the length of career and amount of experience should be more than 2 1/2 pages.
Be employer-centric. Put the important qualifications on the top of the first page, don't make the prospective employer hunt for the details (hint: they won't!).
Show don't tell. Take out anything that is just self-proclamation and chest-thumping. No visionary, great leader, excellent communicator, insightful, team player, blah-blah-blah. Demonstrate these traits in the experience sections and later in the interview.
Bulletize and add metrics. Make it easy to understand what you have done. Add meaningful metrics. Do not use paragraphs because resume reviewers will not read a "wall of words." They are busy, typically overwhelmed with resumes, and with a mind-set for elimination, not inclusion.
Tailor the resume. Show that you are really interested in the position for which you are applying. Use the language of the employer's job description. For example, if management experience is important, use "management" not "leadership." Many/most employers use applicant tracking systems which are set to look for key words.
Action 3: Re-post Your Resume
Post your refreshed resume on LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and if you are a Veteran, on RecruitMilitary. Many of these venues have employer/HR/recruiter tools that will highlight "new" resumes.
Do not post your resume as a .pdf or Word document. These documents are not scannable by the automated search systems and should a recruiter, HR, or hiring manager actually open the document they will find a generic resume, not one tailored to their position.
Action 4: Renew LinkedIn and other Social Media
LinkedIn is the social network for working professionals (or those who would like to be). It has become a critical venue to those who are looking for a job or a better job. Please don't roll your eyes. Talent acquisition and recruiters spend a lot of time (and money) on LinkedIn. Even if you are seeking an entry-level or a position that you might not consider "professional," take the time to set up a basic LinkedIn profile. It will set you apart and hiring managers do look.
There are countless blogs and articles on setting up LinkedIn profiles, but here are three items I think are particularly important.
LinkedIn Picture. Think carefully about the image you are portraying with your LinkedIn. Make sure the picture is consistent with the kind of work you want to do. Don't overdress and don't dress too casually. Avoid selfies - you can do better. Avoid anything that might be considered a "come on" or too sexy; the mug-shot stance; anything with pets or other people; and any hobby or interest shot. LinkedIn is a professional, business network.
LinkedIn Backdrop. If your LinkedIn backdrop looks like this, you are hurting yourself.
The lack of a relevant or interesting background image may be seen as your not caring, just going through the motions, or not being technology-savvy (a particular negative for older workers).
LinkedIn is a place to let people gain some insight into you as a person and hobbies, interests, nature, local landmarks (especially valuable when you are new to an area) are all potentially suitable interests. If you must, you can just Google LinkedIn background images and you will find something you can use.
Profile Update. Start with your updated resume and "cut n' paste" the basic content into your profile. Do not attach your resume as a (Word or .pdf file to your profile. When you post it as a document, it is not searchable and doesn't make it easy for potential employers/recruiters to find you. Also, a generic resume doesn't necessarily showcase the experience and skills the recruiter is looking for and you may have.
Following. Follow companies, organizations, or industries you are interested in. This is an easy way to show connectivity to the greater world and to highlight your interests and background.
Certifications. If you have certifications, be sure that they are listed.
Connections. Once you have a good picture, background image, and profile posted, it is time to "connect." Your goal is to have "500+" connections. Start with your "friends and family," business, community, church, club, or others that you know. Include your Mayor or other civic leaders that make sense. As you focus on a particular kind of work or employer, you can search key people in that arena and ask to connect with them.
LinkedIn is not Facebook, if you ask to connect with someone and they don't respond, it is not (usually) a personal rejection. Some people have accounts but aren't real LinkedIn users and others have certain criteria for accepting a connection. For example I connect with any Veteran, friend of a friend, or potential Veteran employer. I do not connect with people trying to sell me something, anything that sets off my "sleaze alarm," or someone who doesn't have a picture.
Other Social Media. Beyond LinkedIn, you should review your other social media accounts and look at them through the eyes of a potential employer. If you might be seen as political, angry, mean-spirited, discriminatory, foul-mouthed, or socially inept, employers will reject you and you won't even know it. I have had people whine about this, but it is a reality. Looking through public social media accounts is what 96% of employers to do to make a judgement about whether you are the kind of person they want to work with.
Google. Finally, before leaving the virtual world, take the time to search for your name in Google and see what comes up. Hopefully, something positive like your LinkedIn profile will be first. However, if a child molester with your same name lives in the same neighborhood - you need to know that!
Action 5: Reconnect Socially and Personally.
When you are unemployed, it is easy to become socially isolated. In the Veteran's world, we call this "living in your basement." However, the reality is that only a small portion of jobs are found online. Most are found through networking and referral. You need to get out of your house and engage with your personal and professional community.
If you are not working, let people know that you are actively looking for work. If you are working and looking for a better job, let trusted people know you are looking so that the timing of the move to a new position is yours, not your current employer's.
There are three specific pieces of advice for reconnecting:
1. Take pride in your appearance. Anytime you go out of the house, be sure to look presentable. You never know when a casual conversation waiting in line or running into a casual acquaintance may result in a job lead.
2. Volunteer. Research shows that those who volunteer in their communities have shorter periods of unemployment.
3. Participate in the life of your community. Virtually every community has free or low cost events and activities. These can include social get togethers, job clubs, faith-based activities, sporting events, and special-interest meetings.
Action 6: Recommit to Yourself and Your Job Search.
When you are in the midst of a job search, it is easy to neglect your own health and well-being. Without regular hours and a routine to add structure to your life, it is easy to over-eat and become a "couch potato." Over time, these factors can contribute to depression, social withdrawal, and a loss of sense of identity and self.
However, these are not inevitable. Start with a commitment to regular physical activity to clear your head and help protect your body from the long-term effects of stress. Second, treat job hunting as a job. Maintain a routine for the search and create a calendar of networking and social events. Be deliberate and systematic in your approach.
There is, however, a caution here. Don't confuse activity with impact. I had a client who talked about the hundreds of applications he was submitting and bemoaning that he had not gotten a single inquiry. I had to remind him of Einstein's definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. His resume was generic and poorly written, his search was unfocused, and he was unrealistic about his value in the marketplace. Staying on this same path would never yield a job, let alone a career.
Finally, take care of yourself emotionally and spiritually. Being unemployed, underemployed, or miserably employed can make you vulnerable to depression and self-destructive addictions or behaviors. Seek support. Turn to your God and your spiritual community. Turn to your friends, family, and tribe. Turn to your community service providers. Remember that seeking help is a sign of personal strength and self-awareness, not weakness or a character flaw. All of us need the loving support of others.