An April 2013 survey conducted by Braun Research on behalf of Adecco Staffing U.S. found that 71% of job seekers ‘would have’ done something differently to prepare for the job market, after not having worked for some time. “When you’re not familiar with the job market or job seeking, you really don’t know how much effort it will take,” said Kathy Kane, senior vice president of talent management for Adecco NA. To find out what job seekers can do to better prepare for the current job market, we spoke with career coaches, recruiters and recent job seekers to compile this list of the biggest job hunter regrets.
1. “I would have started looking for jobs earlier.”
Putting off your job hunt isn’t a wise move. Among the Adecco survey’s respondents, 26% said they would have started looking for potential positions earlier. “It’s easy to fall into ‘my weekend starts on Thursday’ mode, rather than ‘I’ve got to put my job search into full gear today’ mode,” said Kane, “but procrastinators will have fewer choices.” Most job seekers don’t start thinking about their careers until they absolutely have to, said Lindsey Pollak, a career expert. “There’s so much you can do that’s not a lot of work and not overly time consuming.”
2. “I would have actually networked.”
For job seekers not used to it, networking can feel like the most dreaded part of a job hunt. Twenty-nine percent of respondents to the Adecco survey said they would have spent more time building a solid professional network. “Networking can be scary,” said Pollak, “but about 70% of jobs are found through networking.” Job seekers who spend their time trolling job boards should instead spend that time making solid connections with people who are respected and involved in the workforce, industry experts and alumni, and spend only 30% of their time looking at job listings. For the most part, Pollak said, people love to help people. As long as you are gracious and thankful and not trying to hard-sell yourself right off the bat, potential connections are likely to be receptive.
3. “I would have taken on a volunteer job in addition to my job seeking.”
Bottom line: There’s no substitute for experience. Having some professional experience under your belt before entering the workforce after a long time has become a necessity for many employers. “I don’t know a company that doesn’t want people with recent experience,” said Pollak. Look for volunteer roles that provide alignment with the area you seek work. for example, volunteer work experience in a setting such as waiting tables — and talk with people at each and every table, where you can get customer service exposure and current experience. “There are CEOs who started networking while they were waiting tables,” Pollak said. If you can’t find a volunteer position, try going to the Internet for virtual work. “There are freelance jobs you can get without even leaving your home,” Pollak said, including maintaining someone’s social media outlets, working as a copyeditor or building a website for a small business. Many of these types of jobs have flexible hours, an added benefit for busy moms.
4. “I would have gotten more involved in career-relevant extracurricular activities.”
Groups, clubs, events and activities are a great place to get experience that translates to the working world. Skills are skills. You can show you have gained relevant experience by planning concerts, organising school events, running the annual fund raiser or being president of the parent committee, for example. “Everybody wants to hire people who understand how to manage projects, work alongside difficult people, and have built their communication skills,” said Kane. If you were on the dance team, and choreographed a group performance, for example, you’ve developed creative, leadership and training abilities, all of which translate to the workplace. Experts say it’s a matter of framing the extracurricular experience you’ve had in a professional way. Try thinking of your biggest accomplishments as a member or leader of an extracurricular group, and using them to brainstorm resume bullet points.
5. “I would have applied to more jobs.”
Many recent job seekers regret not putting out more feelers. According to the Adecco survey, 26% would have applied to more jobs. Putting your hat in the ring is the only way to be considered for most opportunities. The trick is to keep track of the applications you send out. “Sending in your application for hundreds of jobs on Seek.com will work against you,” said Dan Schawbel, a personal branding expert and author of Me 2.0. Not only is it difficult to remember what you applied for and when, but you’re also likely to send out generic resumes. Write your resume so it highlights your experience with each position’s requirements. Not sure what your relatable skill-set is? Try creating a Venn diagram that illustrates all of the skills and experience you’ve developed. The overlap can indicate your primary strengths, and the remainder can help you see where you have specific skills related to your prospective industry.
6. “I would have focused more on becoming ‘professional.'”
Another way to show your professionalism is to pick up the tab for networking coffees, and send thank-you notes for even a little bit of help. “If someone gives you advice, all you have to do is say thank you after the fact,” Pollak said. And, of course, monitor your online appearance. Clean up and privacy-protect your Facebook accounts, start Tweeting interesting news (instead of which class you’re skipping), be careful where you “check-in” on your smartphone, and set up a solid LinkedIn profile, Pollak said. Add a signature line to your e-mail account and set up a professional voicemail message. No pictures of your kids or animals in social media profiles, where 25% of employers look, on FaceBook and 83% reviewing on LinkedIn profiles. Don’t have a LinkedIn profile? Get one started if you are targeting the professional or corporate arena for job roles.
7. “I would have done more to figure out what my career goals were.”
Your first job back into the workforce after a long time is unlikely to be your dream position, if you even know what that is. Indecision can hold you back, so set up some informational interviews to try to narrow your focus. “It’s a rare gift at any age to know what your passion is,” said Bruce Tulgan, CEO of Rainmaker Thinking. “In 99 out of 100 cases, people start to learn about a career path, gain experience in something, and over time they become passionate about it.” Don’t be afraid to try something that you’re initially lukewarm about, said Pollak.
Anne-Marie is a sought after media commentator on HR, leadership, and business and has appeared in various publications including Sydney Morning Herald, Boss Magazine, NETT Magazine, Marie Claire, CLEO, My Business, Dynamic Business, Cosmopolitan & HR Monthly. In June 2012 Anne-Marie Co-authored ‘Mind Your Own Business’, a guide for small businesses, published by Mithra Publishing in the UK.