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On Monday, approximately 8.3m school pupils return to school for the new sc tool year. If the other 8,299,999 were anything like my 8yr old daughter, the end of another summer and beginning of the new school year brought a mix of emotions – part excitement, part dread.

At the same time, 31m adults likewise ‘return’ to work after a summer, many returning to a period of normality after a summer which saw light nights, warm(er) weather, holidays and overall a little more life in their work/life balance. The mix of emotions was not unlike the 8.3m under-16s.

Decades after leaving school, we still view our year in terms of the school year. We all start gearing up for a September back-to-school. Despite being the 9th month, is a ‘return’ and the beginning of the long slog to Christmas and the arrival of an old man with a white beard (No, Not Jeremy Corbyn). Just under 4 months when nights get darker, temperatures get cooler, and the longest period with no public holidays. All this against a backdrop of weeks of summer. Little wonder that September to November is the busiest time for people to look for, or be open to, a new job. 1-in-6 people will look at a career move from September to December; that’s over five million people.

So how do you stand-out against your 5m competing job seekers?

Start with two of my favourite quotes:

If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first six sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
The path to success is to take massive, determined action” – Tony Robbins

In other words….Preparation and Hard-Work. Sounds easy? You’d think, and yet the volume of people who are wholly passive and seemingly uninterested in expelling any effort into their job search leaves those who do in a significant minority, and with a huge advantage.

So what can you do to prepare and maximise effort (and chances) on the job market?

Having a strong and effective CV is always the predominant tool in anyone’s job search. So big, we devoted an entire blog to it: CV Tips: 20 thing to do,…20 things to avoid

But there is a whole lot more to your job search. 31 Hacks to get you ahead in your career search.

1. What do you want?

Crux of any job search. What are you searching for. For most, pair it back to what it is that you don’t like, or aren’t fully satisfied with in your current role. Then seek to fix it. If it is all about money, this is where you approach your boss/MD and ask for defined objectives to attain the earnings you crave.

For everything else, draw a list of what you would like to see in your next role, and beyond. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” is a dreadful interview question, but a great self analysis tool – especially if it is followed up with, what do I need to do to get there.

For those at a crossroads, and/or unsure what the next steps look like, I suggest drawing up a list of your achievements. Pulling out of that list the things you enjoyed doing, then pulling out of that list the things that are marketable or replicable. That gives you a list of marketable skills, that you enjoy, are good at and have demonstrable ability to deliver.

2. Network

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. An overused adage perhaps, but very very relevant. Most of the best jobs are found by the most effective networkers, whether by networking with HeadHunters (here’s how), business owners, executives or professional advisors. Networking can uncover job opportunities that never hit the open market, as well as arming you with first-rate intelligence to help you shine during any selection or interview process, as well as the potential to lead to a foot-in-the-door.

Draw a list of appropriate targets and design a strategy to (re)connect with them. Remember, networking is a two-way process though. Focus on existing networks (friends/family/(ex)colleagues/Alumni as well as your potential network – targets yet to be connected with them. Start with your existing network, reconnect where necessary, focus on being social and helpful. Then establish where you have gaps in your network and draw up a plan on how (and where) to get introduced and start meeting people at carefully mapped events/conferences/seminars/etc.

3. Be vulnerable.

Not only is it “OK” to ask people for advice, it can be a great door opener. Gone are the days when you have to be the over-confident ‘know it all’ to get a role, humility and accepting selective knowledge gaps is attractive (backed up with the initiative to fill the gaps). Asking for advice from those who know is a great personal marketing approach. Often the best way to build relationships with people whom you’d like to work with/for is to start by being vulnerable, sharing your admiration for their work, and asking for advice. Once you have understood what you want and where you’d like to do it, your next step should be seeking to connect with professionals at companies you’d love to work for, long before they have a job opening.

4. Social Media

If you are not on LinkedIn, get on! LinkedIn is not overly effective at locating top talent, and thus not used by majority of headhunters and professional recruiters in that, but it IS used to verify details and gain useful insight.

Once you are on LinkedIn, make sure your career history is accurate, upto date, comprehensive AND that is correlates to the details on your CV. Make sure your profile picture is appropriate and professional. Assume prospective employers WILL cross-check your career, WILL see which contacts you have in common and WILL seek to gain a holistic overview of your professional demeanour. Make sure published articles and papers are detailed – being seen as a thought leader is very attractive to prospective employers.

5. Beyond LinkedIn….

Social Media doesn’t stop at LinkedIn. Adopting one of the more serious Social Media platforms can have greater impact that you realise. Twitter will always be the top performer in this regard for me. Not only is it a perfect means of getting to know, understand, stalk and interact with your target prospects, it is a great and concise platform where you are able to share, create and engage with topical content whilst building the persona you desire and spreading the correct message about your professional demeanour and wider life.

I blogged about the true value of Twitter here: What’s Twitter Worth To You (Spoiler: More Than You Think). It has become my prime source of business, and saw me make over £100k in 6 months….it is even more effective as a job searching tool. But….

6. Be Aware Of Your Digital Footprint

Social Media can make your Job Search and place you at the top of the pile…but it can also break it. Before you start your job search, clean up your trail on all Social Media platforms. Check postings for spelling and grammar. Remove unprofessional photos and inappropriate comments (remember that year in Aya Napa/XXXX’s Stag Do…etc). Removing historic conversations, unless highly pertinent and appropriate for your search is a very strong move – taken in isolation, lengthy conversations can sell against you.
For more information on this, and tales of how bad a Digital Footprint can be, read here: Recruitment and YOUR Digital Footprint

7. Don’t follow your passion.

“Follow your passion” is one of the most overused pieces of career advice. Often true, but not always. Following what you are good at, (especially when most others aren’t) makes for better advice. Author Cal Newport, whose book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. is at pains to point out that majority of people whose work/business is their passion started the work, then grew the passion. Developing skills, improving marketability and setting yourself up as (near) unique, will exponentially improve career prospects. Skills over passion.

8. Create, don’t wait.

Majority of Job Seekers are lazy. They’ll write a CV, stick it on an Internet Job Board, register with a couple of generalist ‘database’/generic recruitment agencies and wait for a call. The smarter job seeker doesn’t just sit around waiting for their “dream job” to open. They study the industry and/or field that they work within, or are looking to move into, and determine the most attractive businesses/market leaders in that field before making an approach. (See No.3, Be Vulnerable, above). Aside from picking up on latent plans within a business to recruit, by presenting a solution before the problem has been created, any designed spec or wishlist will be designed with you in mind.

Develop the concept further by writing a blog/article addressing challenges/offering solutions to the business or industry in question.

9. Aim High.

Especially with a proactive approach, but also in response to a direct job advertisement, aim high. Unless expressly dictated in an advert, drop a line to the CEO or known firing manager. Show initiative, set your concise argument out as to why you should be considered for that role in that business. Perform a SWOT analysis where relevant; tie-in relevant exposure and achievements; introduce and demonstrate your (relevant!) passions. Make the recipient smile and the next step will be a face-to-face meeting.

10. Learn how to listen, and read.

Job seekers are so caught up in conveying their message and image to the employer that they often fail to listen, or read. If applying for a role, ask yourself repeatedly if you are right for the role described. If you don’t have XYZ experience or an ABC background when both are requested, applying will not only most likely be futile, it risks being black-marked for future, more relevant opportunities.

Once you get past the first hurdle and reach a call or interview, the skill becomes listening. The art of conversation is the ability to listen, not speak. Know when to talk, when to stop talking, and when to ask questions. Practice your interview skills with an experienced interviewer.

11. Don’t present yourself as out-of-work. 

Honesty is key on any CV or application, but recognising how your experience reads is vital. Never put an end date if you haven’t finished your current role. If you have finished, consider what you have been doing since. Anything relying on your professional capability is comfortably classed as consultancy work.

12. Don’t leave mid-career gaps

Make sure your whole career is accounted for; gaps will read as unemployed, unmotivated, unable to get a job…or worse. Be aware that recent stints of ‘travelling’ may raise alarm to prospective employers.

13. Make stories.

CVs are about facts. Succinct, detailed, accurate, pointed facts. But once the process becomes discursive, tell the story of your career, and of each role. People remember stories, they make you appear human and more believable. At interview, the interviewers want to hear your tale, the story of your career, how it grew and how you developed. Again, practice it. Remember it’s a conversation. Make your interview interesting.

14. Don’t send your resume to everyone.

Challenge yourself every single time you submit a CV. Is this role really for me? I am really likely to be a top 10 contender? The digital age has made it easy to submit 100s of applications in minutes, but recruiters and employers will see through it and you will look rudderless and desperate. If you don’t take your career search seriously, and devote your time to it….you can’t expect recipients to take your career search seriously and devote their time to it. Do your research, and look for jobs that are actually seeking the skills you have. (and don’t openly copy 400 recruiters in to a poorly written speculative email riddled with typos….!)

15. Tailor your CV and your cover letter.

Generic CVs are fine for generic recruiters, but for any specific job application, or response to an approach, you should tailor your CV (and covering email) for that role and that business. A sure fire way to get rejected is to have a covering note, or CV summary selling key skills that aren’t asked for. If the role/advert has key words sought, be sure to include those key words in your CV. I rejected 350 out of 420 applications for a Polymer/Plastics Sector Sales Director role last week, all because they didn’t have the words “Polymer” or “Plastics” on their CV.

16. Be Human.

Irrespective of who the intended recipient is, they are human, so show you are likewise. An obviously bespoke, personable email/call will leapfrog your application. Spend 5 minutes checking out their social media feed. Referencing something they have shared recently will resonate highly with them, whether a trip, family holiday or just a personal event. If they have publically shared it, comment – you will demonstrate passion and time taken to research them. i.e., given my publicised love and interest in Gin, anyone referencing that, or offering to meet me ‘over a Gin’ wins favour.

17. Always follow up.

Following up CVs and approaches made is seen as an arduous task, but following the above two point, it demonstrate genuine interest in the role, as well as ensuring the recipient s takes a second look at your application. Follow-ups can also be a way to overcome initiative tests. For highly contested/high-demand roles, hiring managers and recruiters, seeking only the optimum motivated individuals, will merely consider those who have thought to follow-up – a great if clandestine way of filtering out bulk-applicants adopting a ‘spray-and-pray’ approach.

18. Think what you can do for the job.

If you apply for any role thinking “What the job can do for you”, you are starting from the wrong position. Switch to “What You can do for the role/company’. Your approach will be revolutionary, and quite obviously so. Once the job is yours,, then you can start thinking of yourself.

19. Get up once more than you fall.

Fall down seven times, get up eight. A great Japanese Kotowaza, but also very apt in your career search. Getting an optimum career move, or landing your dream job takes time, effort, and will encounter many setbacks. Make sure you take ‘failure’ as a learning experience. Counter the feedback given with improving your product offering. Whether that is down to packaging or gaining experience through intermediary jobs, internships or just asking for assistance with current employers. Every knock-back has an upside.

20. Research, Research, Research.

Mentioned in several points above, researching before applying, calls and interviews is vital if you want to make the best possible impression. Don’t just check out the business, research the interviewer. Social Media has provided an amazing platform to understand and get to know your interviewer almost intimately.

21. Nail First Impressions

“You only get seconds make a first impression” It’s an overused analogy perhaps, but never is it more true and apt that at Interview. And worryingly, the boffins at Princeton in the US have calculated you have 100 milliseconds to make that first impression. First step is to be cognizant of the impression your CV/covering email gives, but the prime test is at interview. Think about it 100 milliseconds – that’s an instantaneous snap shot of what you look like, how you are stood/sat and the insight into your personality from your facial expression. Read more on how to maximize your first impressions hereFirst Impressions. 13 tips & why you should look at your feet when meeting someone.

22. Mirror

Mirroring is a fantastic Neuro-Linguistic-Programming tool, introduced to me by Tony Robbins in his book, Ultimate Power. Trialing your first practical experience in an important interview is a little ambitious, but to mirror elements of your interviewers is a hugely powerful tool. Mirroring is a sub-conscious means of relationship building, we do it every time we walk down the street with a friend and find our steps becoming synchronized. In the interview, mirror your interviewers demeanour, language, approach and body language. If the interviewer is relaxed, echo his/her approach. If they are formal, adopt the approach. If they are sat back with a leg crossed, do likewise. Mirror their movements, they gestures. If they place a hand on the arm of their chair, do likewise. These small elements will have a subconscious impact and leave the interivewer with the feeling of comfort, connection and reassurance – they will feel like they have known you for years.

23. Don’t just say you’re proficient with IT when you just know how to use Office.

Using Office is no longer a skill to mention, it is taken as read. Only mention, and discuss IT if you are proficient in advanced elements, otherwise you will find yourself on the wrong end of a discussion about the comparative merits of Java and the difference between C++ and C# (no I don’t know either).

24. #ThinkDifferent. 

Remember the 1997 Apple slogan “Think Different”? Use it with your CV. Don’t make it too quirky, or introduce bizarre formatting, but it needs to stand out. Don’t use pre-written templates, certainly don’t just use your LinkedIn profile or the crap CV some job sites auto prepare for you. You CV is:

  1. Your sales document
  2. A window into your personality

Keep it simple (no photos/images), keep it in reverse chronological order (no summary CVs), keep it factual (so story telling)…but make it you. Your font, your achievements, your style. Your CV will probably have 10 seconds to be placed in the Yes or No pile, make every second count.

25. Chronology

CVs: Work in reverse chronological order. Most recent first. Summary CVs (or glamourously termed ‘functional resumes’) are described as a “holistic overview of skills and experience”…but in reality it means you are trying to hide something, usually unexplained gaps on their CV, typically very recent.
Interviews: Work in Chronological order (unless instructed otherwise). Start with your early career, fly through it, pull out relevant points and reasons for moves, especially positives! Give greater details, again with relevant, positive experiences and achievements. Use humourous stories sensibly.

26. Skills, not titles.

Job titles tell us nothing, they are purely subjective on how we view them and will often work against an applicant (Former “Managing Director” applying for a Operations Manager role?). Detailing skills & achievements at interview, not titles becomes essential to provide an accurate and tailored pitch as to your suitability for any given role. (and if it doesn’t you’ve applied for the wrong role). Few things are more interview shortening than someone pointing out, repeatedly, that they were a CEO 15 years ago…especially when the last 10 years has been spent in a perceptibly smaller role.

27. Rehearse interviews.

What’s easier than talking about yourself? Try it. For 15 minutes. Most people struggle to get past 5 mins. And yet, the performance they give could have the single biggest impact on their career, and their life. Get someone to interview you, ideally face-to-face so that you can practice body language and real-life responses. If you are brave enough, video yourself – then playback to assess and critique your own performance, answers, fluidity and body language. You’ll hate it….but you’ll know how to make it better next time.

If you need sample, and tough, interview questions – our interviewing guide has 20 great question, and 20 more that are a little ‘left-field’. Practiced answers to unusual questions can often win the day.

28. Confidence Vs Ego

Fine line. Business LOVES confidence. Business HATES ego. Boasting about your history, accomplishments and life wins will turn the world against you….but that is what you need to do in an interview. You need to find the balance, for you, between being quietly confident and competent, and being a ‘know-it-all’. (see ‘Vulnerable’ and Rehearsing’ points above). Standard advice….listen, use eye contact, answer specific questions and be sure to dress as to make that all important first impression.

29. Use verbs.

CVs and Interviews are all about selling. You to them, them to you. The best way to maximize the impact of that is to use verbs. they will add substance to your pitch. Which is more direct and effective: “Was the head of a B2B business” or “Managed the B2B Business?” To avoid repetition, use a thesaurus.

30. Personal CSR

People will tell you to volunteer/undertake Charity work during periods of unemployment. To me, that still looks like you couldn’t get a job. However, devoting time to Charities, and undertaking the organisation and commitment of charitable endeavours, can add hugely to your career. Non-work achievements and the message they send about your social awareness, can be hugely attractive. It will also open career doors.

31. Sell, but don’t lie.

Don’t be tempted to alter or overstate your past achievement or qualifications, regardless of the solidity of advice given (i.e. Ros Altman, Government Advisor who advocates the ‘white lie’ of altering “GCE O’Levels” into “GCSEs” to appear younger). Anything in your career that you feel you need to embellish is probably the area you either need to work on….or the area that suggests that this isn’t the right role for you.

But above all, be you. No masks, no assumptions on what execs *should* be like. Chemistry Fit is key. Let your personality shine though. It’s still you greatest asset in a Career Search.

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