Most of the time, competition stimulates us, gets our juices flowing, generates creativity, a sense of excitement, and motivates us to perform at our best. Looking for work is another matter! When it comes to financial survival, to regaining independence and self-worth, competition can be crippling.
We apply for a job in the fervent hope that hundreds of others are not also applying. Finding work is too serious an issue to be considered a game or a sport. We need to find that position that will make everything all right, make us believe in ourselves again, and help rebuild the self-esteem and self-confidence shattered by unemployment.
Unless we are very lucky, there will be competition for every position we identify. Our remaining option is to set ourselves apart from other hungry applicants.
Take a global view and emerge from the dank and slimy job search swamp by utilizing a number of techniques I call knock-out P-U-N-C-H-E-S, guaranteed to leave your competitors crying "Uncle" and throwing in the towel.
1. P is for Persistence.
We all hate failure. We don't like being rejected, judged, or found inadequate in any way. Trudging on, day after disappointing day, requires all of our reserves of energy, reserves that are rapidly becoming depleted. From having to constantly present ourselves as enthusiastic and creative, we become blue, bummed, and bone-deep exhausted. We wonder how much longer we can keep up the façade of self-confidence that we secretly admit has long ago evaporated. How can we present ourselves as competent, successful, and eager when in our heart-of-hearts we have accepted that we are a despised failure in a success-oriented culture?
The secret is to keep plugging away. No matter the number of disappointments we have experienced; no matter the number of rejections we have encountered; no matter the times when our age, our experience, our skills have been found wanting - we have to KEEP GOING. We never know if "this time" is "the one." We have to continue to act, no matter how difficult or painful it may be, as if this were the one position we have been seeking.
Ask any newly hired worker and they will tell you that just as they were about to give up, along came the gold at the end of the rainbow. Not giving up, no matter how discouraged you internally feel, is the secret weapon in finding a position, no matter how long it takes for the right opportunity to appear.
2. U means Unswerving Focus.
There is so much going on in your life: family stresses, financial pressures, multiple demands on your time and your energy. The search for work, although prioritized for a long time, has moved down the "to do" list somewhere below Timmy's first tee-ball game and the in-laws' anniversary party.
If you have mastered the art of multi-tasking (juggling activities around as changing deadlines demand), you will have realized that finding work is your overwhelming priority and that nothing can, or will, interrupt your focus on that, no matter what else may be happening in your life. Ignoring peripherals and always keeping your eye on the immediate objective, obtaining a job, ensures that opportunities are not missed and that every possible avenue is explored. While there may be time for other things to maintain your balance, the time allotted for job search must remain intact and sacred, no interruptions allowed.
3. N stands for Networking.
The often-touted "hidden job market" is merely a term to cover the multiple job openings that always exist but are never publicized. Literally, millions of positions are filled without classified advertising, internet postings, or agency listings. Such positions are identified, and obtained, through personal referral: a job seeker knows someone who knows someone else who has a need for the job seeker's skills and abilities. Networking is merely a fancy term for using friends and acquaintances to help locate employment. The process requires that when you are in need of work, you make sure that everyone you know is aware of your situation and that you ask them for information and assistance. Beyond exploring job leads with your contacts, it requires the harvesting of names and additional contacts through personal referrals from your first line friends. Like the ripples of a pebble cast into a lake, your access to unadvertised positions multiples exponentially as your network of contacts, and their contacts, expand your chances of being in the right place at the right time when that long-sought employer connection occurs.
Many workers draw back from the process after a few attempts, fearful of exploiting family and friends. At its best, this is a mutually beneficial relationship as their self-esteem is increased by having the opportunity to help you. At some future juncture, you may be able to return the favor.
4. C for Communication.
A job seeker doesn't necessarily have to possess the spiel of a professional salesman nor the creative presentation of a marketing specialist but clear, unambiguous communication is critical throughout the hunt for work.
Your resume, cover letter, and completed application need to be clear in at least three areas.
a) What position are you applying for? Even if you have become so desperate that you'll take just about anything, an employer is looking for an applicant who specifically wants the job he has available. If your resume is purposefully hazy (because you are looking for several different types of work), make sure that your cover letter is focused on the specific position for which you are applying.
b) What have you done in the past that is relevant to the position you are currently seeking? Again, if your resume shows a smattering of skills in seemingly unrelated areas, tie it all together in your cover letter so that it makes sense in the employer's mind.
c) What can you do, better than anyone else, to make the employer believe that he has to hire YOU? If you have operational skills that the company needs, highlight them and what they could do to help the employer's business. If your skills are limited or you're applying for unskilled or semi-skilled work, stress personal qualities that stand out: reliability, courtesy, an ability to work with a variety of coworkers and supervisors, flexibility, the desire to work hard to prove yourself, and a willingness to learn as much as possible to show your value.
Networking contacts are helpful only if you can quickly and succinctly explain your predicament, what kind of work you are seeking, and ask directly for help whether for possible positions, information, advice, or merely additional names to contact.
The need for clarity continues in the interview. Answer questions clearly and directly. Express your hopes and positive outlook without bashfulness or mumbling. Before you leave, get a clear agreement on what the next step will be and if you can call the employer at the end of the week to see if there are any lingering questions. After the interview, send a short, personal thank you note for the interviewer's time and attention.
5. H represents Humility.
This is a two-edged sword. Many of us are so humble that we find saying anything positive about ourselves almost excruciating. We start to mumble when expressing our qualities and achievements. Employers and interviewers are well aware of this. They know that an interview is an uncomfortable and unnatural interaction that makes both sides of the desk anxious and overly formal. Unless the position is in sales, which often demands a somewhat pushy self-presentation, you may make a more favorable impression if you are somewhat hesitant in rolling out your skills and abilities. The applicant who reports strength in all areas, knows everything, and answers every question with "I've done that before," may be looked upon with some suspicion. The job seeker who keeps asking the office manager how much longer he will have to wait or taps his fingers impatiently on the desk, is not making points with the support staff who may have a significant effect on the eventual hiring decision. An employer may seek an applicant with initiative but he also fears a loose cannon who ignores direction and caution. While we admire the "take chances" attitude that propels a Donald Trump or Richard Branson to the self-made billionaire's club, we don't necessarily want that arrogant risk-taking at our company, especially when it is our company taking the risk!
6. E equates to Enthusiasm.
This is what will wear you out more than anything else. It is one thing to be enthusiastic about our passions, our interests, even our jobs. It is something else to show enthusiasm over and over, rejection after rejection, and not crash and burn at some point. The sanest approach seems to be balance. While your search for work is top priority, make sure that you make time for rest and rejuvenation. Since enthusiasm is an absolute requirement in most job interviews, you would be better served to limit your actual job hunting personal and telephone contacts to 20 or 25 hours per week. Take time to relax: quiet time, exercise, watch a movie, and replenish your energy levels. You will be healthier, less stressed, and more effective when you do make contacts, than trying to spend 40 hours a week "pounding the pavement" and ending up presenting as tired, flat, and desperate when you reach the interview that could have been "the one."
7. S reflects Self-Belief.
Call it faith, call it self-confidence, call it a sense of trust, call it cock-eyed optimism, it is really, in psychological terms, self-efficacy. It does not directly concern what you think about yourself, positive or negative. It involves your belief in whether you are able to affect what happens to you. Do you believe that your actions and words can bring about the outcomes you seek? If I don't believe that my efforts will have any effect on results, then the world is based on illogic, luck-of-the-draw, random chance.
If you look back over your own life, you will be able to identify actions or decisions you took that had certain consequences, good or bad. Analyze and study your own history and you will start to clearly see that consequences follow every action. Move that into the present and future, and it will revitalize your belief in the eventual consequences of your actions now. If you follow the myriad job seeking strategies and techniques identified by experts, and repetitively supported by successful outcomes, you will reach your goal.
It is that strong belief that you are "on the way" to success that will carry you through the long nights of worry, the wasted time of disappointing leads, and the pain of recurrent rejection. It will bring you back to the other six areas mentioned by allowing you to focus, reach out for support, communicate with humility and clarity, and maintain your job search campaign with unflaggingly enthusiastic persistence.
Virginia Bola operated a rehabilitation company for 20 years, developing innovative job search techniques for disabled workers, while serving as a respected Vocational Expert in Administrative, Civil and Workers' Compensation Courts. Author of an interactive and emotionally supportive workbook, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge, she can be reached at http://www.unemploymentblues.com