Searching for your next role can be a confusing and frustrating process. Often people don’t reply to your applications, it’s hard to find good work, and you end up taking a role that is tolerable, instead of exciting. In the twenty years I’ve been working, I’ve returned to the process, again and again, and become more and more annoyed at just how frustrating it can be. In my most recent experience, I actually decided to take some of my frustrations and devise some solutions which can help you find what you want out of your search. They are in no way exhaustive, and some you may already know, but I hope that you find something useful for your next search, which will help you find a role which you really appreciate and enjoy.
Part one: Work out what you want, before you begin
Often, when you are looking for the next step in your career, you will have a good idea of what you want in your next role, be it a higher salary, a more senior role, or a different company, but have you considered the details? How long should the commute be? Are there any kinds of company you don’t want to work for? Should there be a company pension? These are all questions which, if you can answer them before you begin looking, will help you ensure that you end up with something you truly want at the end.
Some years back, before I met my fiancée, a friend shared with me a TED video of how a data scientist had used her skills to “hack” the dating game. It’s worth a watch:
In this video, Amy Webb listed the key things she wanted in a partner, organised them in priority, and then assigned point values to each one. This allowed her, when browsing profiles, to assign scores to people she liked, and, if they scored over a certain value, she knew it was worth asking them out. What this process did was ensure that she stuck with her original principles, instead of being distracted by other aspects while evaluating options. This is a process which comes in highly useful when dating, but also when interacting with job adverts and recruiters to find your perfect role.
Try it yourself:
- Write down all the things you want in your new job. Consider all of the aspects you can, such as how much you want to earn, what type of company you want to work for, what you will do within the company, how long you’re willing to commute, which benefits you’d like them to offer, all the way down to small things like whether you’re okay having to wear a suit, or if they offer breakfast in the mornings. Be relatively realistic, but remember that you can include “stretch goals”, such as an even higher salary, which you can use to add even more points to a role.
- Organise everything you’ve listed down in priority. Which things are more important than others, what are absolute must-haves and what are nice-to-haves? You should end up with roughly ten must-haves at the top of your list, and then the rest as nice-to-haves, with the most important of those at the top of each list.
- Assign a score to each one. The top must-have gets 99, and the next 98, and so on. With the nice-to-haves, start at 29, and then count down. This will help to weight the must-haves as being more important than the nice-to-haves.
- Establish your threshold. Look down your list and consider, how many of your must-haves does a role need before it’s worth applying for? I personally felt that a role would require four must-haves and three nice-to-haves. This meant that it would need to score at least 390 (4 x lowest score of the must-haves, added to 3 x lowest score of nice-to-haves) before I would apply to it.
Top tip: If you’re unsure of what you want in your new job, spend some time reviewing what’s currently on the market. Look at salary calculators and job adverts from a range of sources and build up a picture of what’s on offer. You might find that you can aim higher than you have before, and it will also help you establish which resources — job boards, feedback sites, et cetera, will be useful in your search.
Of course, you may not get all the details you need from the job advert, and so you might have to amend your score as you progress through the application. The recruitment process is a continuous learning and development experience, and it’s always good to observe and record what works and what did not, so that you can adjust and improve.
Once you have your checklist, it’s time to get your CV ready.
Part two: Self promotion
Improving your CV
A lot of the time, when moving to a new role, people just update their CV by adding an extra entry for their most recent role, and then using that. Your CV is an advert for you — it needs to be able to communicate all the reasons as to why you’re good for the role you’re applying for, by providing a summary of details, which raise intrigue in the mind of the employer, making them want to ask you in for an interview. It also needs to be concise, easily to scan, and stand out. Here’s what to look for:
- How long is it? Expected CV length can vary between professions and countries, but, here in the UK, a CV for an office-based role should usually not be longer than two sides of A4. This helps to keep it concise, and serve as an introduction, rather than being an extensive essay about yourself. Find out what the expectations are, where you are, and stick to them. Many employers will ignore your CV if they deem it to be too long.
- Is it concise? Employers are often busy, trying to fit in reviewing CVs in between a number of other tasks in their day, often only having about a minute to go over each CV. How do you ensure yours stands out? By making it easy to read. Format your CV as a series of bullet points, instead of long paragraphs, and be efficient with the information you include. Trim any unnecessary wording and try to get the information over as succinctly as possible.
- Does it show what employers want? Are you displaying the skills and experience that employers are listing in their job adverts? Are they easily identifiable? If you don’t have them, are you showing how you’re working towards getting them, or other comparable skills and experience that you already have?
- Does it include other detail? It’s great if you can do all the things listed in a job advert, but a lot of employers want to see some other depth. Many interviewers have latched on to the fact that I mention on my CV that I’m a DJ and love to ask about the music I play. Find a little space to add something that shows that you have a life outside the office — it might even help a prospective employer decide whether you are a good cultural fit for their company.
Putting your CV online
You might also want to have an online version of your CV available — making it easier for recruiters to discover, and providing a good way of advertising yourself without having to lift a finger. I find a LinkedIn profile to be very useful for this — it allows you to expand on the restrictive details of a two-page CV, link to other supporting documents, such as websites, portfolios, and so on, and allows you to omit details that you wouldn’t want to share widely online, such as your address or telephone number.
Portfolios and other documents
If you’re a designer, like I am, you may well need to provide supporting information to go with your CV, such as work examples in a portfolio. This can either exist as an online resource, such as your own website, an online portfolio resource such as Behance, or Dribbble, or alternatively offline, as a PDF you can provide with your applications. The online version can be more time-consuming, but if carefully tended can provide a useful tool that you can use time and again to represent yourself at various opportunities (just make sure that you have permission to display work online, as some companies write non-disclosure agreements into their contracts, and putting work online without their consent can get you into trouble). The offline version can be more tailored towards different opportunities, and it is useful to employ the same principles outlined above for your CV on your portfolio — is it short, is it concise, does it show what employers are looking for?
Also, ensure the file size of your portfolio is below 10 megabytes, as many companies limit the size of email that they can receive on their system. When it’s compressed, check it works on different devices — I used an online resource to compress my portfolio PDF and found, after I had given it out to various prospective employers, that the pages of my portfolio looked blank on Windows computers, which led to much embarrassment, and wonder whether it had ruined some of my applications!
Part three: Making applications
Using job boards
So, you’ve worked out what you want, you’ve got your documents ready, and now it’s time to apply for some roles. You will probably have done some investigation into some example roles, as described in Part One above, and it’s also useful to investigate the various resources you can use to find prospective roles. I ended up using job boards such as CV Library, Guardian Jobs, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn, as well as keeping an eye on certain search terms on Twitter, which gave me a wide spread of opportunities and ensured I didn’t miss anything.
Once again, the process is a learning one, and you will find, over time, that you become more used to the vagaries of the various job boards. Some things I found included:
- Some job boards allow you to include a cover letter with your application. You can use this to draw connections between the requirements in the job advert and the key points in your CV that show you can do those things. It’s useful to have a little template, saved in the notes app on your phone, so you can use it, even while on the move.
- Finding the same job, described slightly differently, by recruiters who are trying to get people onto a certain role. After applying for a few roles, I found that I had to call up recruiters to check whether this was something I had applied to before.
- Job descriptions where the recruiter had copy/pasted the wording from another format, and not bothered to change it, check that important details had been added, etc. This “syndication” seems to happen a lot on boards like LinkedIn, and, if you see it, I recommend moving onto other boards, which provide more fruitful results.
- Recruiters often omitting important details from job descriptions, such as the name of the company they are recruiting for, and salary expectations. They can claim this is down to ensuring that their competition don’t steal the work from under them, but it can also end up with you underselling yourself when asked what salary you’re expecting (another reason as to why working this out in Part One above is important).
The biggest discovery I made, last time I was looking for a role, was that recruiters don’t always receive the job applications you make. I used to apply to roles, and then get frustrated when I heard nothing back. I was annoyed that I had all these great qualities, and there were some fantastic looking roles that I was perfect for, but no one was contacting me to discuss them further. I decided to call up the recruiters, to see why they weren’t getting back to me, and was astounded to find that roughly 9 out 10 recruiters I spoke to hadn’t received my applications at all!
Following up applications
This is where I began to define the very important rule when it comes to job searching — always follow up your applications. During my search, I would spend about an hour in the morning, looking at new roles, and applying for ones which looked interesting and scored enough points on my criteria. Each job I applied for would be noted down in a spreadsheet, capturing the job title, company, the link to the job listing, expected salary, location, date applied, recruiter and their company, a phone number I could reach them on, and finally, a colour-coded status of what stage the application was in (green for successful applications, red for failed ones, yellow for ones I was waiting to hear back on, and white for ones that needed chasing up). This became my dashboard, and allowed me to quickly work out whom I needed to call to follow up my applications, just asking to discuss the role further, and find out more detail about what they wanted.
By following this approach, I found that recruiters were more responsive, I was able to actually have a conversation around roles, and help recruiters know more about what I was looking for, and also find out where I would need to tweak my CV and applications to make myself even more appealing.
Working with recruiters
One of the key things about recruiters is knowing how they operate, which will inform how you work with them. People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that recruiters exist for their benefit — that the recruiter will go out and find them the perfect role for them. This is an easy mistake to make — some recruiters even make it sound like they are working solely with your best interests at heart, but this, very rarely — if ever — is the case. You may have heard the phrase, when people talk about social media and other systems, that “if you’re not paying for it, you are the product”? The same principle applies here.
Never accept anything blindly, and always ask to see a copy of the job specification before applying for any role.
Some recruiters are better than others; and the best ones will have some knowledge about your role and industry, make you feel valued and supported, and help you every step of the way by chasing companies for feedback on your applications and interviews. Others will send you irrelevant job adverts because they saw a keyword on your CV, cajole you into roles, or just suddenly ghost you. Keep the former, and drop the latter. Recognise your value as a candidate and use it to your advantage.
Part four: Interviews
After some applications, and following up with recruiters, you should find one where the company are interested enough to talk with you about the role, and discuss your suitability for it. Again, the format can vary, depending upon the company, industry, and country in which you’re making the application. From my perspective in software development in the UK, many companies would want to start the process with a screener call. This is a short phone or video call, usually lasting around 30 minutes, where they ask some general questions about your application, mainly to ensure that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re worth asking in for a face-to-face interview.
Do your research
Before the call, it’s a very good idea to do some research beforehand. Take a look at the company website, look at their social media presences, and also get an impression about what other people think about them from reviews on sites like Glassdoor. Make some notes about what you learn — perhaps you might find opportunities where you can help, or projects that they are doing that you are interested in, or maybe you’ll find some details about the company background that inspire or interest you. Make sure you are always able to answer the question: “What appeals to you about working here?”, and always have some questions to ask, to show that you want to know more about their company, what they do, and how they do it. This show of interest, and ability to speak to them about what they are doing, will put you head and shoulders above other applicants who haven’t shown such diligence.
Make sure you are always able to answer the question: “What appeals to you about working here?”
Armed with this information, you can then use it in the screener call interview (you may well only get to mention one thing you have discovered, as you will have limited time), as well as the face-to-face interviews that follow (where you might get more chance to use what you have found).
Many people go into interviews with the idea that they exist for the purpose of the prospective employer to evaluate them as a prospective employee. Whilst this is true, they often forget that this is also true the other way round. You are not only there to answer their questions, and see if you appeal to them, but they are also there to answer your questions, and see if they appeal to you. Think about this for a second — if you’re evaluating them, doesn’t that put you on the same level as them? You really might want this job, but what if the office is a dingy little hole with no natural light that smells a bit funny? What if you find out that their expectations are actually quite different from those stated in the job description? Always remember that you have the ability to decline them, as much as they have to decline you. This makes the relationship more equal, and actually might help improve your confidence in the interview. Make sure that you leave the interview with the information you need to ascertain whether this company is the right fit for you, evaluating everything from what you will be doing if you get the job, to what benefits they offer, and what everyday life is like in the office.
I found that it takes a while for recruiters to warm up to the fact that you’re on the market. I spent several weeks sending off applications, talking with recruiters, and, eventually, interest began to grow in me. If you get lots of interest, then you can attend more interviews (time permitting), and have a richer variation of opportunities to pick from, ideally ending your search with a couple of roles that you can weigh up against each other, and pick one that really suits you.
As mentioned, the above instructions are in no way exhaustive, but instead constitute a collection of observations which I made during my own job searches, and felt that others may well benefit from. Some of them may well be things you already know, but I hope that you might have learned one or two things that might benefit you in your next attempts to find a new role. I would love to hear what you have discovered yourself, and your opinions on what I have written above.