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Why Diving Head-First into Your Job Search Won't Work

Author: Alistair Cox, CEO, Hays plc

Did you return to work in January determined to finally find your dream job? Have you spent the last few weeks tirelessly searching and applying for roles with no avail?

If that describes you right now, I can guarantee you are not alone. The holiday break gives people a time to reflect on their circumstances and often spurs them into a New Year resolution to change things, including their job. It’s no coincidence that every year in January we see a spike in job applications at Hays. Many of these applications will be successful, but unfortunately, many won’t be – and I believe for a very simple reason.

More often than not, the unsuccessful candidates are those who have dived head-first into the job search process, without thinking about what they really want and what exactly they need to do to get there. As a result, they end up applying for roles that aren’t necessarily right for them at this particular stage in their career.

So, for those of you determined to find a new job in 2017, one which will propel your career forward and set the foundations for years to come, I urge you to take the following steps:

1. Map out your career path:

Securing the right role for you, rather than ‘a role, right now’, requires you to take a step back and answer some honest questions about what you want out of your career in the long-term.

Your own personal context is key here. First, think about your internal, personal traits – what are your general strengths and weaknesses, what specific skills do you have and what kind of work has provided you with the most fulfilment so far in your professional life and why? What sort of environment do you thrive in? What sort of environment turns you off? You should then consider the external context around a job move. Is your industry facing a period of change – perhaps from disruptive technology or market changes – that will impact the opportunities available to you, both now and in the future? How do your own skills compare with the wider jobs market, are you more capable than the average competition and can you transfer skills from your current position into your desired role? Is there a role model that you’d like to model your own career on and, if so, what steps did they take to get where they are? Aside from determining the kind of job you actually want to be doing, answering these questions will provide you with a roadmap to success.

Ultimately you are in competition with other capable people to get what you want, so you have to have a compelling story as to why you are exactly the right person for your next employer to hire. You may recognise an attribute that sets you apart from other candidates which you can focus on highlighting to employers, or you could spot an emerging area of employment in your sector that has so far gone largely unnoticed.

I remember earlier in my own career writing down all the attributes of the sort of hypothetical business I wanted to be a part of, what it did, how it did it, how predictable or unpredictable it might be, what sort of people would work there, how it felt etc. That alone was a very revealing exercise because it forced me to write down descriptors of my ideal work environment, and that’s hard. It also showed me very clearly that I needed to move because my current environment at the time bore little relation to my ideal, but now I could understand precisely why I felt unsettled.

2. Use your current position to enrich your CV:

You may be looking for a move, but remember that your present role still provides opportunities to develop yourself as a candidate and enrich your CV. Think about what you want your own CV to look like in 5 or 10 years time in terms of new skills, experience, locations and roles and ask what is the best way of building that CV.

Often you may need to move employer to get there, but do not underestimate how effectively you could build that CV in your current employer, if you take the initiative. Yes, you need an employer that will encourage your personal development, but there are a great many happy to do that, if only you presented them with your own plan to do so.

However, to diversify your skillset you need to step outside of your comfort zone - some of the most impressive career rises I have seen have been the result of the individual pushing themselves to their limits, setting themselves new goals and striving to meet them, starting to do things they had never done before, instead of simply waiting for a bi-annual professional review from their boss. I have seen many examples in Hays where colleagues are doing things today that they would have previously felt unimaginable or not even considered possible, let alone predictable. But they took a risk, they stepped forward to try new things, they learned from their failures and today they have done themselves, as well the company, an enormous amount of good. So, be proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to building the skills and experiences needed to enrich your CV.

I advise you to start small here – start by taking on an assignment which is outside your comfort zone but does not stretch your capabilities so much that you’ll be completely out of your depth. Find a mentor who will give you honest feedback once the assignment is complete and ensure you recognise your own success by assessing your performance – what could you improve on in the future?

Refining your expertise and skills is another fantastic way to flex your muscles in your current role, while also boosting your potential future value in the jobs market. It will also do wonders for your self-confidence, which is no bad thing when embarking on a job search. Again, it’s often advisable to start small. Try to take in a webinar or podcast a week that teaches you an industry-relevant skill, whether it’s coding, social media training or leadership qualities. And, remember to keep your CV up-to-date with all the new skills and experiences you have gained.

3. Think about what you want to be known for:

A boss of mine once said “it’s how you are that is important here, as well as what you know”. I didn’t quite understand at the time, but what he was getting at was the heart of how to build a strong culture and what part I should be playing in that jigsaw. That means you thoroughly understanding how you are, or more accurately, how you actually want to be. Taking the time to understand and develop your own personal brand takes just as much commitment and hard work as refining a company’s brand, and for good reason. It essentially shapes your professional identity, and will have a huge impact on how others perceive you professionally. This can be crucial in securing promotion in a current role or when searching for a new position.

So, before you jump head-first into your job search, step back and answer what you are currently known for, how you see yourself, what you want to be known for, and what needs to change for you to become the best of brand of you. Don’t fool yourself here. I’ve worked with people who think they are one thing, yet their colleagues see them as something totally different. A brutally honest self-awareness is vital if you want to make this work. Then try to think about the positive traits you want people to see in you – envisage it and become it.

I hope that taking these short-term, manageable steps will provide you with a renewed sense of purpose and focus towards your job search and long-term career plan. The best investment you can ever make is an investment in yourself, so you should approach them as a serious investment in your future career rather than a passport to an instant new job. As a result, you should find your own value as a candidate rises, as you not only develop yourself but also become aware of your most marketable skills. More importantly, you should gain a better understanding of the type of job that will lay the best foundations for your career in years to come.

You may be positive you want to move to a new opportunity, but switching employers is a significant change and long-term success should never be sacrificed for short-term satisfaction. Speaking as an employer myself, the candidates that really stand out are those with clear drive and focus, those who have a plan, not just in their day-to-day but also in their long-term career ambitions. By taking a measured approach and considering where you want to be and how best to get there, you should find yourself pulled towards an exciting new role that is right for you in 2017 and beyond.

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