Dear Sam: I was just laid off and do not know how to even begin a job search. What should I do to get my search off the ground? — Ron
Dear Ron: I’m sorry to hear of your layoff. Let me outline the critical steps to get you started in the right direction:
1. Define your purpose. Have you considered what types of opportunities you want to pursue? This is the most critical step to ensuring a targeted and effective search. Do not conduct a general search that will only result in watered-down results. Instead, position yourself for something specific — not everything — and be strategic with where you send your résumé. Conducting a targeted search, while reducing the overall number of positions you may apply for, will yield stronger results and a higher average return rate.
2. Develop a great résumé. Once you define your target, create a résumé that infuses the language found in your job postings of interest. In essence, when considering your target audience — the hiring managers you are trying to attract — you want to make sure you are speaking their language. To do that, you must know what you want to market yourself as and translate your past experience — and this is the key to an effective résumé — to create a strategic image of what you have done that positions you for what you now want to do.
You may have heard of keywords that need to be included in your résumé, and speaking the right language, as mentioned above, means you will incorporate appropriate keywords and key phrases to secure the attention of your target audience. Keywords are simply the skills, experiences, abilities and credentials your targeted hiring managers are seeking. So, if you have defined your purpose and are qualified for the jobs to which you are applying, incorporation of those keywords will come naturally in the presentation of your background and key qualifications.
Lastly, in creating your résumé, do not forget to develop a unique aesthetic that reinforces the tone of your candidacy. Avoid using old formats. Instead, check out recently written books, Web sites like mine or create something from scratch to showcase a little personality on your résumé, all while working alongside your content to differentiate your candidacy.
3. Create a strategic job-search action plan. Now that you have defined your purpose and marketed yourself on paper, begin to outline where you will look for a job. Do not get caught in a rut of simply applying for jobs on the open market. Instead, leverage networking, prospecting, referrals and job-search events as additional elements of a multipronged distribution strategy.
4. Keep track and follow up. Create and maintain a job-search journal tracking your search. Print out every job you apply for, noting why and when you applied, why you would be a great fit and when you followed up on the opportunity. This tool will become invaluable during your search, not only as a resource when a potential employer calls you for a phone or in-person interview, but also as a tool to reflect on the effectiveness of your search.
5. Stay positive. Remaining positive is critical in conducting an effective job search. Find a support system to keep you on track, accountable and optimistic. Many associations have job-transition groups where you can network with like-minded professionals — many of whom are still employed — to gain insight into value-added distribution opportunities. Continue to reflect and refine your approach and search strategies until you see responses, remembering that targeted searches generate the strongest results.
Dear Sam: I am in my mid 40s and have driven a tractor-trailer for most of my career. However, due to a recent accident with my hand, I have been forced to look for another occupation. How do I create a cover letter explaining the career change?
Dear Tim: When you embark on a career change, you first have to define your purpose and identify your transferable skills. This is much more important than explaining the reason for the transition. If your résumé and cover letter do not make a strong case for your ability to perform within the new occupation, then you probably won’t get the interview in the first place.
Additionally, explaining that you had an accident without going into detail on the limitations it now presents may make a hiring manager question your ability to perform other job functions. Therefore, the best approach is to market your transferable skills and not mention the reason for the career change. I always tell clients that it typically never serves them to highlight a potentially disqualifying factor, unless by not doing so you just won’t get the call for an interview.
In your case, an explanation for the move will do nothing but highlight the lack of experience in your newly desired profession. It will also tell the hiring manager that it was not your choice to change fields, and could make them think that you might be less than enthusiastic to do so. Stick with making a case for how well you can perform within your desired profession based on your past experiences, skills and education.
Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Do you have a résumé or job-search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Sam’s résumé-writing
services, visit ladybug-design.com or call (614) 570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).