Before you get lazy about looking for a new job in 2016, run through this list of pointers to focus your search.
Do you remember, about 365 days ago, when you raised a champagne flute and pledged to find a new job in the coming year? Well, here you are, still hunched over the same desk, still itching for a change.
So 2016 it is. For real this time.
Now the hard part. What might you want to do next?
Here are 10 tips for jump-starting your job hunt before inertia relegates it to the trash heap of dead New Year’s resolutions.
Find your objective strengths. Review the results of your Myers-Briggs or another personality test and remind yourself of the keywords that describe you and what you’re good at, said Karen Cates, a management consultant, executive coach and adjunct professor of executive education at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Never taken one? A popular assessment is the Clifton StrengthsFinder, first published by Gallup 15 years ago, which you can take online for a fee. Plug those keywords into job databases to get ideas for career paths in growing fields, like health care, that don’t necessarily require technical expertise. “If you have been involved in sales, find that you have a passion for helping others, are an extrovert and are considered an exceptional communicator, patient relations may be for you,” Cates said.
Embrace what comes easy. Take a hard look at your resume and pick out the five things that were really easy for you to do and that you enjoyed doing, because playing to those natural talents will help you distinguish yourself, said Whitney Johnson, author of “Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work.” “Often the things we do so well are as natural as breathing, and we overvalue what we’re not good at and undervalue what we are,” Johnson said.
If you’re not sure what those natural talents are, think about the compliments you get that you brush away, or what calms you down during a stressful day at work, she said. For example, Johnson, a former Wall Street analyst, said that despite the passion and pride she derived from building good financial models, she felt most at ease when she was coaching others or connecting people with one another, because it was effortless and made her feel in control.
Pinpoint your unhappiness. Drilling down to the source of your malaise helps determine what needs to change. Lauren Spira, a Chicago-based career coach and associate director in the career services office at The John Marshall Law School, said she has her clients identify what they have disliked about each of their previous jobs to find commonalities. If there is a pattern of not getting along with bosses, should you be careful not to work with micromanagers? If you feel like you’re not helping people, are there opportunities within your field where you can? Those who struggle with self-reflection might find it helpful to explore those questions with a counselor or friend, Spira said.
What’s the end game? Rather than ask what you want to do, ask yourself how you want to feel every morning when you wake up, Cates said. Do you want to feel calm or energized? Like you’re part of a team or independent? What is the ideal end game? Recasting the question widens the scope of possibilities, though it requires you to shed the “shoulds” and “can’ts” that often keep people stuck.
Cates described a client, a property manager in Chicago, who said his end game was to live on a beach overlooking water. They discussed how he could move to Miami, but logistically it was complicated. So instead he moved into a new home overlooking Lake Michigan and took a job in hospital administration, where his experience juggling projects was applicable.
“The key for all of this is openness,” Cates said. “If you really have an end goal and you can really see what it is, there is more than one way to get to it.”
Change one variable at a time. “De-risk” yourself to a potential employer by mapping out how your skills are applicable to the job you want, Johnson said. Career switchers should pick just one variable to change with each move they make: If you want to do something functionally different, stay in the same industry and perhaps the same company. If you want to change industries, apply to jobs functionally similar to your current one. “They’re taking a risk in hiring you, so the more you can de-risk it for them, the easier it is,” Johnson said.
Investigate the market. Before you dust off your resume and start shooting it at online job postings, have conversations with people familiar with your desired position to learn where the jobs are and what you should be doing as a candidate to boost your chances, Spira said. Ask your inner circle if they have contacts, use alumni networks and attend meetings of professional associations. Finding contacts via LinkedIn is helpful if you are targeting a specific company, but Spira warns against limiting yourself to one organization as you might miss opportunities to learn about others.
Among the questions to ask: What’s a typical day like? Which organizations promote from within? How might employers perceive your background? What’s happening in the industry that should inform your search? Do not ask for a job, Spira said, as it can be awkward and hinder the relationship-building process. Still, Cates cautions, if you reach out to someone in an organization where you wish to work, be prepared to treat it as a formal interview.
Clarify your message. The fact that you are unhappy and will do anything to get out of your hated job is neither useful nor attractive, so you should formulate specific answers to basic questions early on, Spira said. What are you looking to do? Why should someone hire you? Why are you leaving your current job? Rehearse what you would say if you were asked those questions by a potential employer, making sure you’re not too vague. The message will likely shift and sharpen as you gather information.
Recast your resume. In the section at the top of your resume that explains what you wish to accomplish, use the keywords from your personality tests to give a lens through which employers can perceive the rest of your experience, Cates said. Framing your resume around your strengths and passions lets hiring managers see beyond your list of previous job duties, which is especially important if you don’t have direct experience in your desired career.
Hire a boss. Look for a boss who will be a sponsor and advocate for you when it’s time for you to move up the ranks, Johnson said. Weigh that potential not by what they promise to do, but what they have done in the past. What is the person who held the role before you doing now? And the person before them? Did they move up or out? If there is a pattern of “out,” it could be a problem, Johnson said.
Grin and bear it. Even though job hopping has become the norm, the conventional wisdom holds true: It’s better to stay in your job until you have lined up the next one. Partly that’s because people perceive you differently when you’re employed, but “more importantly, you perceive yourself differently,” Johnson said.
Not having anywhere to be dings your confidence, said Johnson, recalling her own experience on sabbatical. When she started having to get dressed for work again, “It makes you feel like, ‘I know what I’m doing,’” she said.
If, however, you are so miserable that every conversation is steeped in negativity, it may be better to quit or invest in other ways to lift your spirits, Spira said. Carving out time for the gym, hobbies and friends helps you shift your focus from the work drudgery and sometimes, workers drop the job search when they find those outside activities meet their needs, she said.
The job hunt itself can generate enough sense of movement to get you through the day. Put a schedule in place that you can handle, be it an hour a day or an hour a week, to hold yourself accountable and brighten the light at the end of the tunnel.