Ten Important Lessons I Learned in My Job Searches

Ten Important Lessons I Learned in My Job Searches

For 20 years I’ve been in the job market, either in a job or in a job search, and 15 of those years I’ve been recruiting all levels of professional talent for multiple companies in various cities and countries. Through all of it, I’ve learned some important lessons that I’d like to share.

1. Network now and forever.

NetworkingIf you’re not doing it already, start immediately. Networking should be an integral part of your career, and is critical when you’re in a job search.

Periodically connect with your existing professional contacts, whether it’s getting together or just passing along a relevant article to them, but stay in touch.

Extend your network regularly. Every time you attend a conference or off-site business meeting, make a point of connecting with someone. And, consider asking your current network to connect you with other contacts they value.

Extend yourself to those within your network by offering to help, introduce them to other contacts or act as a mentor to a junior professional.

When you ask someone in your network for assistance or to connect you to a hiring manager, be specific and thoughtful in your ‘ask’. For example, if you’re in the job market, and interested in a specific role, be prepared by providing your resume, as well as an outline of your strengths and accomplishments that match the requirements of the role you’re interested in.

2. Update your LinkedIn profile.

Make sure your LinkedIn profile is engaging and professional. Don’t just drop your resume into your LinkedIn profile. Your profile should be more distinctive and include the highlights of your career. Create a headline that speaks to what you’re passionate about in the business world. Hiring managers and recruiters are constantly using LinkedIn, so a strong headline can get you noticed.

If you want to minimize age bias, abbreviate your experience, including only the last past 10 to 15 years.

3. Have an elevator pitch ready.

NetworkingWhen you least expect it, you’ll be asked what you do or what you want to do. Be ready and be concise, zero in on what you do and what you want to do. Your story should take less than thirty seconds to tell.

Always have your elevator pitch ready, not just when you’re making a job change, but all the time, because opportunities can arise when you least expect them.

4. Regularly update your resume.

Annually, it’s a good idea to update your resume, even if you don’t need it. That insures when you do need it, you’ll be ready to go.

I’ve met leaders and senior professionals who recommend you keep a record of your accomplishments and update your record at least annually. It’s a great idea and good practice to get into.

5. Be prepared to discuss salary during a job hunt.

It may seem radical that when you’re in the job search, you get asked about your salary during your first conversation with a company, but it happens frequently. The reason why? Companies don’t want to spend valuable time with candidates who aren’t likely to fit their role. And, from your perspective, there’s nothing worse than spending 8-10 hours interviewing, and then receiving an offer that $10k to $25k below what you’d consider. You’ve just wasted valuable time and energy that could have been spent on a stronger role. So, while it feels intrusive, discussing desired and/or actual salary insures you and the company are focused on a role that matches what you’re interested in.

If you’re asked for a specific number and you’re not comfortable providing one, consider providing a range. If you want to be flexible about compensation, add that you’re flexible when you reveal your salary. And, tell the hiring manager or recruiter why you’re willing to be flexible, so it doesn’t appear to be desperation. Many individuals are flexible in their compensation requirements for reasons such as a better location, work/life balance, because they feel they’re over the current market salary or they may be transitioning their career.

6. Be organized.

cover-letter-writingJob search should be viewed as a project, and potentially the most important project you work on at any point in time. Like all good project managers, develop a plan and schedule, work the plan, and stay on target. Good project management skills will keep you organized when you’re juggling multiple interviews and roles, and interviewing with several companies.

7. Set aggressive goals each week.

Since most of your work will be meeting people or applying online, set goals for both, applications and networking. And, make your job search your number one priority every day. When you’re in a job search, you should spend 6 hours/day minimum on your job search, like your standard work day, whether it’s time spent networking, in meetings, resume submissions or research.

8. Contact and confirm your references.

Don’t include references on your resume or when you apply for a role, but do connect with your professional references early on in a job search. You should gather a list of at least 3-5 references and use only 3 of the most appropriate when you’re asked for them after an interview(s). Most companies want a reference from someone who supervised you, a peer, and one other person who knows you professionally. If this is your first role after your education, then teachers and professors can be used as they will speak to your work ethic. And, stay in touch with your references regularly.

When you get asked for the names and contact information for your references, reach out to the ones most appropriate for the role, and provide them information about what you’ve learned about the role, reiterate strengths that are important for the position, and thank them in advance for the recommendation.

Once they’ve provided a positive reference, and you’ve accepted the offer, circle back with your references, advise them of the role you just accepted, and thank them again.

9. Stay positive.

Job search, whether your currently employed or not, can be exhausting and discouraging. It’s critical that you stay positive. When the going gets tough, reach out to motivators in your network for support and fresh ideas. And, even if it’s difficult to hear, take the advice they give. Sometimes, we can become too siloed in our thinking when it’s about our career or salary. After all, it’s highly personal and often fundamental to how we define ourselves.

10. Pay it forward.

Do what you can to help a colleague, friend, or connection whenever you can. Help others through introductions, or mentoring more junior colleagues. And, if someone seeks your advice, be generous in providing it. Never forget that someone else is today in the same situation you were at one point and may be again.

Job search and managing your career can be exhilarating and frustrating. Being prepared and organized will make you savvier and appear more professional, and get you the results you want faster!


Want to Work at a Company Where the Culture Is a Positive One?

“Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.”

— Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappo’s

A job is more than just a place you go for 8+ hours a day—you also need to deal with coworkers, bosses, and office politics. Here are some clues to determine a company’s culture before you take the job and it’s too late.

It’s important the culture of the company is one you think you’ll thrive in. The work environment significantly influences how you’ll feel about your job. This includes everything that forms employees’ involvement with the work itself, such as co-workers, supervisors, company culture, personal development opportunities, even hours and surroundings.

A positive work environment makes employees feel good about what they’re doing and encourages employee engagement.

Our colleagues and especially our boss, have a huge impact on our work experience.

If you’re looking for a new job, assessing a potential work environment is a crucial consideration you shouldn’t skip.

Check Out the Company Using Multiple Tools to Learn More

Start with the corporate website. What news and updates do they put out to the public, because what’s on their website is generally relevant to new products, ideas, conferences, or volunteer activities that are happening at the company. If there’s nothing there, that may evidence they’re not concerned about their image. So, they may react the same to their employees.


Check the feedback about the company on sites like Glassdoor. Take the reviews you see there lightly, but if you see common threads between reviews, you’ll know what to watch out for. If everyone leaving a company complains nothing is worth the long hours and demanding management, it may not be what you want to get into. On sites like Glassdoor, don’t just read what employees say, but look at what people who interviewed said too. And, if candidate interview reviews suggest a strenuous or disorganized process, consider it a reflection of what’s happening behind the doors.

Check out the company’s social network profiles, specifically their pages on LinkedIn and Facebook.

See what they share on Facebook to the public, and visit their corporate LinkedIn presence will reveal people who work there, what their skills and backgrounds are.

Ask Questions About the Culture in Your Interview

If you’ve done your homework and the company still looks like a great place to work, you have an opportunity to learn more about the culture in your interview. The one question that usually comes up (and often near the end) in most interviews is “Do you have any questions for us?” That’s your opportunity to learn more about the culture, information you can’t get from just your research. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  1. What’s the company culture like from your perspective?
  2. How does this group work with other teams?
  3. How do the different roles on our team interact?
  4. What’s the intrateam dynamics?
  5. How would your employees describe you? What have you been told by more than one person?

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, one of the strongest advocates of culture, makes a solid point when he says ‘the people you hire represent your company even outside of work. If you meet someone and learn where they work, your perception of that place is influenced based on what you learned.’

So, What Elements Make a Great Company Culture?


Let’s start with what is Corporate Culture. It’s probably a word you hear often, but what is it exactly?

According to The Business Dictionary corporate culture is: “The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.”

This is the reason a positive culture matters. Culture sustains employee enthusiasm.

8 Elements of a great company culture

  1. Positive Values – A positive mission statement outlines the goals and demonstrative the company values and strives toward.
  2. Relaxed and Productive Atmosphere – People enjoy coming to work and feel appreciated, acknowledged, and rewarded.
  3. Open and Honest Communication – Everyone communicates in a cards-on-the-table manner, solving difficulties in a positive way. They view constructive feedback as an opportunity for growth. And constructive feedback is given frequently if needed, and they don’t wait for your annual review. Constructive feedback should also offer workable solutions.
  4. Cooperation, Support and Empowerment – Employees have a sense of camaraderie, cooperation and empowerment.
  5. Humor – Employees keep things in perspective, laugh, and have fun even when change is occurring or everyone is busy.
  6. Flexibility and Transparency – The employees embrace change, accommodate new trends and technology, and incorporate new skills. Companies where management is transparent about the direction, current challenges, and even mistakes creates an environment that builds trust.
  7. Positive Reinforcement – People need acknowledgement, appreciation and gratitude to be motivated. And frequent, specific and timely positive reinforcement is best.
  8. Approachability and Support – When employees feel they can talk openly with their boss and will be supported when faced with challenges. At some point in a career, everyone faces challenges and managers who support their employees


Tony Hsieh, now CEO of Zappos, believes that interactions–both between employees and with customers–are the key to a business’s identity. “At Zappos, we really view culture as our No. 1 priority. We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the stuff, like building a brand around delivering the very best customer service, will just take care of itself.”–January 9th, 2010, The New York Times

In the end, there are no magic pills even when you’ve thoroughly done your research. Business, like everything else today can change on a dime, so if you’ve decided to join a company and learn the culture is toxic, start looking for a new opportunity, and do research on how to handle a toxic environment before you find yourself just reacting to it.



Nuances of Successful Phone Interviewing

Phone-InterviewIt all starts when the recruiter reaches out to you about your availability for a phone interview. When they do, and they will, offer a couple blocks of time, not just one. If you only offer one time, it often requires multiple back and forth emails that delay your interviewing. Also, consider that the person interviewing you may not be in the same area code, so provide availability that would accommodate multiple parts of the country. Many companies may have an office in your city, but their recruitment may be in another or a different state. Even if you know where the home office is, the recruiter could be somewhere else. Again, suggest multiple blocks of time you’re available that could be accommodate east coast and west coast callers if needed. And, include the phone number that you can be reached with your area code. Plain and simple, doing these two simple tasks can speed up the entire process for you.

The Day of The Interview

Plan to be available for the call a minimum of 15 minutes before and 30 minutes after (in case it goes longer). Most phone interviews last 30 minutes, but keep 60 minutes available. If you can’t do that, alert the interviewer up front to your time restraints. Use a comment like, “I’ve got another meeting at 1:00 I can’t be late for”, rather than “I only have 30 minutes” or ” I have a hard stop at 12:30″. That will take pressure off you to get the interview wrapped up at a specific time and possibly rushing the interview.

Start with a smile on your face. Not so easy to plaster a fake smile on your face? Think about yourself talking to someone who always make you smile or laugh as you answer the phone.

Greet the caller with your name immediately, and let them know you’re pleased to be speaking with them. I always appreciate when someone says, “I’m glad we could find a time that works.” It tells me they’re excited about the opportunity and starts the conversation off on the right note.

Phone interviewers rely heavily on everything you’re saying and how you’re saying it. There are no non-verbal cues here except how you’re saying things, so keep it upbeat and eliminate distractions, whether it’s music or pets or family. While many people recommend dressing up or making sure you’ve got another person to field distractions, sometimes they can still happen. I used to go into the bedroom, lock the door, and tune out the outside world. Not the recommended environment, but it worked. Whatever it takes.

Phone-InterviewDress comfortably, wear whatever inspires you to have your best conversations, so wear whatever you can be comfortably relaxed in.

Critical to any successful interviewing is building rapport, and it can happen in a phone interview two ways. First, you just connect with the p
erson (maybe because their voice if friendly, or because their background is similar). But, that rapport can sometimes hurt you if you get too friendly and don’t come across as knowledgeable in your field. The other problem is sometimes it might cause some to reveal too much and on the phone, you won’t get to see the interviewer’s non-verbal responses to the messages you’re conveying.
The second way to build rapport is to be upbeat and knowledgeable. When offering responses, they should come across as well thought out, thorough, and concise. Often people have good examples of their successes, but the story they tell about them goes on and on, and by the time they’ve told the entire story, I’ve lost interest. Especially when they do it multiple times in a 30-minute interview. At that point, I’ve also determined they don’t have the sense of urgency we do and won’t be effective in this fast-paced business world we are all a part of today. Unfair? Maybe, but I, the recruiter, must decide on this candidate’s next step and I only have so much time. So, here’s where being prepared becomes your advantage. If you’ve prepared for the interview ahead of time, knowing your strengths and why you consider them strengths, having several responses to questions like, ‘Tell me about a time you solved a complex problem,’ or ‘Explain what you’ve done that shows you’re an analytical thinker’ if you’re applying for a job that has analysis involved, then the interview should go smoothly. Many companies today focus on customer service, both inside and outside the company, at all levels, so be prepared with a response, even if you don’t have external customer contact. Who are your customers? Explain how you’ve taken extra steps to insure they’re satisfied.

And if you have additional constructive comments on a topic don’t hesitate to bring them up during the conversation. But again, be concise.

One of the advantages of a phone interview is that it diminishes the difference between an introvert and extrovert, because generally everyone is friendly on the phone. It also removes your appearance which can help, because it’s not a distraction. Bottom line, what the interviewer is looking for is knowledge, experience, and cultural fit. And, regarding culture fit, while every company is different, most look for someone who’s motivated, energetic, positive, and exhibits high integrity. And often, these characteristics come through in something as simple as a phone interview.

Have your resume handy, so you can easily reference it. Also have your prep work available and don’t forget to have the job description next to you too.

After you’ve answered a question, a great suggestion is to ask the interviewer if you’ve answered their question. It’s a great opportunity for them to bring up something that may need clarification. And, while the interview is your time to highlight yourself, don’t dominate the conversation, wait for the interviewer to ask questions. And then respond to the question and be as specific as you can. With that said, it’s also your time to get some of your questions answered, and you can ask right in the beginning or at the end, if you can ask a few questions if the interviewer hasn’t brought it up.

At the end of the interview, show interest and ask what the next step is, and/or what the entire process will be, and at what point will there be an in person interview. More and more companies never meet you in person, but conduct all interviews via phone or Skype. So, the more you know, the better you can prepare.

After the Interview and ‘The Thank You’

Shortly after you conclude the interview, send a thank you note. Today, the preference is an email and a generic one is nice, but nothing more. Including a specific topic or detail in the thank you can get you bonus points. And, it doesn’t need to be the reasons you’re a good fit, but what you appreciated about the interview that will stand out. You can include information if it’s additional information that wasn’t discussed during the interview and can benefit you, but keep it concise and brief.

Follow-Up After the Interview

How long do you wait to reach out to your interviewer to check on your status? In general, allow 5 business days before you make any attempts and done by e-mail is always the best, and most appreciated by companies. The only exceptions would be if the recruiter or screener told you they should have an answer in a specific time, then allow another 2 days and follow-up. Your career is critically important to you, and all companies understand that.

Summing this up, have a positive attitude, be flexible with your availability, and be prepared!