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9.6 Troubleshooting Your Search: Strategies for the Three Common Problem Areas

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn potential reasons for the problems at each job search stage.
  2. Learn strategies to get your job search unstuck and moving forward again.

Three Reasons You Are Not Getting Enough Interviews

You may not be getting enough interviews for the following reasons:

  1. There is a mismatch between what you are targeting and who you are.
  2. Your marketing is incomplete.
  3. You are too passive in your outreach.

What to Do for a Mismatch

A mismatch occurs between what you are targeting and who you are when one or both of the following are true:

  • You are not the right candidate for what you are targeting.
  • You are a qualified candidate, but you are not positioning yourself to reflect this.

You may not be qualified for the companies or jobs you are targeting. Some industries or functions have very specific certificationIn a subject or for a job, certification means that a recognized authority has deemed you qualified in that subject or for that job. For example, some information technology roles require certification in a particular software. requirements, GPA minimums, or some other very clear deal breaker. If you are focusing your efforts on these competitive areas, and you do not have the prerequisites, you are sabotaging your search. Review your targets to see if they are appropriate for your experience and skills. Be realistic with what the requirements are and what you bring to the table. You may need additional experience, another degree or certification, or a specific skill you do not yet have before you can go after your targets.

Similarly, you might be going after the right companies or jobs, but your positioning, the way you represent yourself, may not reflect how good a fit you are. Your targets may be correct, but you may not be positioning yourself correctly to your target. This is a marketing problem. Review your résumé, cover letter, networking pitch, and online profile to ensure that your marketing reflects that you are indeed a match.

What to Do When Your Marketing Is Incomplete

Your marketing may be incomplete when you focus too much or exclusively on only some, but not all, of the four main elements of your marketing campaign:

  • 1. Résumé
  • 2. Cover letter
  • 3. Networking pitch
  • 4. Online profile

Prospective employers often favor some elements more than the others, but you do not know which employer favors which element, so you have to be strong across the board.

Many job seekers spend a lot of time on the résumé, but not as much time on the cover letter or other correspondence. If your overall package is not consistent, you will lose out if a prospective employer happens to weigh the cover letter most heavily. Some job seekers do not have any online presence. If you do not have an online profile, and recruiters are looking for you online, then they will not find you. If you are not getting enough interviews, your marketing is not getting through to prospective employers. Review your marketing to ensure that you have both a strong résumé and online profile, that cover letters and all your correspondence are effective, and that you have a compelling and memorable networking pitch.

What to Do When Your Outreach Is Too Passive

Finally, you may not be getting interviews because you are relying too much on passive methods—recruiters or job postings—to get you interviews. Recruiters and job postings are just one source of leads. They are passive sources because you are waiting to be selected. You are giving up control of your search to someone else.

Instead, take a more active approach:

  • Contact companies directly.
  • Identify the specific departments where you’d like to work.
  • Network your way to the specific people who manage these departments and, therefore, have hiring authority.

The majority of jobs are filled by candidates who are referred directly by employees or who otherwise network into the company. Fewer jobs are filled by external recruitersMatch job seekers to openings at a company but do not work within the company. External recruiters work for a search firm or agency and are paid a fee, not a salary, by the company. or unsolicited responses to job postings. Review your approach to ensure that you are directly networking with prospective employers and not just relying on recruiters or job postings for your leads.

Three Possible Reasons You Are Not Getting Called Back after You Interview

You may not be getting called back after your interviews for the following reasons:

  1. Your interview responses do not convey key message points.
  2. You spend the interview telling without showing.
  3. You aren’t at your best during the interview.

Have Key Interview Message Points

Some job seekers blame the interviewer for not asking the questions that will enable them to highlight their best self. It’s true that some interviewers don’t know how to interview well, or at least in a way that enables the job seeker to show his or her best. But it’s the job seeker’s responsibility to control the interview. You should have three to four key message points that demonstrate why you should be hired. These are your unique strengths, skills, experience, and personal attributes most relevant to the job being discussed.

You need to weave these key message points into the interview, regardless of what is specifically asked of you. Think about the president of the United States facing the press room: He does not wait for the right question. He has an agenda prepared in advance and uses whatever question he gets as a springboard to forward his agenda.

Show, Don’t Just Tell

The best candidates give examples with details and tangible results. You don’t say you have great analytical skills. You talk about a specific example of when you used your analytical skills and the quantified results you achieved for your employer because of them. You don’t say you work well with people. You give a specific example of a project that involved coordinating a group of people or communicating or relationship building. You don’t say you will learn on the job. You come in having clearly researched your target company with specific ideas of what you would do in your role.

A good framework exists to ensure that the examples you give clearly highlight your contributions. That framework also gives the interviewer a good sense of the scope of your responsibility. To emphasize your contributions, answer these five questions:

  1. Who sponsored the project? Was it the CEO, the head of a department, an outside client?
  2. What was the overall objective? Were you researching a new market, developing a new product, organizing a conference for key clients?
  3. What was the output you needed to deliver? Was it a PowerPoint presentation to senior management, an Excel spreadsheet with projections, a written report?
  4. What was the result? Did the company enter the new market? Was the product developed, and was it well received? How did the conference turn out?
  5. What did you do, and what did everyone else on the team do? A prospective employer needs to understand what you specifically did. Itemizing what you did shows your contribution. Itemizing what everyone else did shows you stayed on top of the overall project, and it also gives the interviewer a clear sense of the size and composition of the team.

For example, Russell S. is a recent undergraduate with extensive music-related internships but who now wants a sales role upon graduation. To highlight that his experience in music was indeed relevant to sales, he walked his then-prospective, now-current employer through a sample music project. He deliberately picked a promotion project because it is closely related to sales:

  • I was promoting a high school band for gigs in the neighborhood. (Question 1: The band sponsored this project. Also Question 2: The objective was landing gigs.)
  • I canvassed different restaurants, bars, and community organizations for the type of entertainment they booked and developed relationships with the bookers of places that fit the music of my band. (Question 3: The output was the sales process.)
  • We landed several gigs throughout the summer, and many places became repeat customers. (Question 4: The result was multiple sales and repeat business.)
  • I was not in the band, but I acted as the business manager, negotiated the contracts, collected the fees, and worked with the venues to promote the band. Everybody else was a performer. (Question 5: Russell itemized exactly what he did in relation to everyone else.)

Be at Your Best

This chapter started with the importance of harnessing motivation at will. A major way to kill an interview is to have low energy. If you are not excited and enthusiastic, it looks like you don’t really want the job. Many prospective employers will choose the less-qualified but more-enthusiastic candidate over a great candidate who appears disinterested. Remember the suggestions earlier in the chapter for motivational routines to follow prior to a job interview. There are several steps you can take the night before the interview:

  • Do something relaxing that keeps you positive.
  • Create a summary sheet of key research points you intend to share.
  • Review your questions for the interviewer so that you ensure a two-way dialogue.
  • Practice your interview responses for the top questions you are expecting.

The morning of the interview, certain actions can help ensure your interview is successful:

  • Skim the current event headlines so you can engage in a timely discussion.
  • Have your favorite breakfast.
  • Pick a specific accessory or other item for your interview outfit that makes you feel good and is a visual cue that this is a special day.

On the way to the interview, continue to maintain your motivation:

  • Listen to your favorite, upbeat song (remember to take the earphones out of your ears while you are waiting so you appear approachable).
  • If you are inspired by quotes, have your favorites on an index card to read, even right before you check in at reception.
  • If you are visually oriented, have a picture with you that instantly relaxes you.

Three Possibilities That Might Keep You from Closing the Offer

You might not be closing the offer for the following reasons:

  1. You encounter job search fatigue.
  2. You do not follow up enough and employers forget about you.
  3. You aim for the job, instead of the offer.

Beware of Job Search Fatigue

Here’s that motivation issue again: you need to ensure that you are at peak performance throughout all of your interviews. You can’t just start out strong and assume that the positive feedback will carry through. What’s tricky about the later stages of interviewing is that job seekers experience a roller coaster of feelings. They are elated at being called back, but many interview processes last for multiple rounds. After a while, it’s physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting, and a job seeker gets tired, which looks like disinterest, which kills the later interviews. Refer to the refreshment activities suggested earlier to maintain your long-term motivation, including these activities:

  • Museum visit
  • Movie, show, or sporting event
  • Hike or other physical activity
  • Volunteer opportunity
  • Job search buddy

Don’t Let Employers Forget about You

There are a lot of time gaps in the hiring process—the time between when candidates apply and when interviews are scheduled; the time between when interviews are scheduled to when they actually happen; and the time between when various candidates get through their interviews and decisions can be made. During these gaps, the employers are seeing other candidates. You think you are just waiting patiently, but don’t stay out of sight for too long:

  • Keep in touch with your contacts at the prospective company.
  • Don’t just ask about the status of the search—that puts too much pressure on the company.
  • Check in with interesting news you have heard about the market. The networking chapter includes tips on how to follow up in an engaging but nondemanding way.

Focus on Getting the Offer, Not the Job

In the six steps to job search success, the last step is to close the offer, not get the job. We focused the language specifically on the offer, as opposed to the job, because you always want an offer, but you may or may not want a job. The offer puts the ball back in your court, so you can decide what’s best for you. If you only interview at companies where you are sure you want the job, you won’t interview that often because it’s not easy to evaluate a job without interviewing for it. Yet, you don’t want to analyze the job too closely as you interview because then you seem unsure. Recruiters and employers can see the doubts you bring to interviews. Therefore, go for the offer, not the job. Be 100 percent committed to getting an offer (you can still say no, after all). Don’t ever show the interviewers you are second-guessing.

Strategies to Troubleshoot Your Overall Job Search

The key to troubleshooting your search is having good data to review but also being honest with yourself about where you are. Remember that the stage where you are stuck—whether it’s not getting interviews, not moving forward, or not getting offers—is not a reflection of the quality of your candidacy. It is a reflection of your job search technique. You might be an amazingly qualified candidate, but have poor job search technique. Remember, you can learn good job search technique and adjust what you are doing to improve your search going forward.

There are very good reasons great candidates get stuck in their search. Career changers, on-rampersA colloquial term referring to candidates who are returning to the workforce after family leave or another long gap in employment., or international candidates needing sponsorship are just some examples of candidates who may have trouble getting interviews. Employers prefer people who have done the job before (sorry career changers), or people currently active in the market (sorry on-rampers), or people who are easiest to bring on board (sorry internationals). All three of these candidate groups may have exceptional candidates, but they are coming with preexisting red flags that need to be overcome. Therefore, don’t see an ineffective job search as a poor reflection on you. Just acknowledge that something isn’t working, try to identify it, and fix it.

Build in time for regular troubleshooting, at least every thirty days. Schedule time for job search review in your calendar at these regular intervals, so that you automatically save the time when it arises, and you don’t have to rely on your memory or discipline. Regular review ensures you identify and can stop problems early.

Key Takeaways

  • At the candidate identification stage, you may not be getting enough interviews because of a mismatch between your targeting and positioning, an incomplete marketing campaign, or passive outreach.
  • At the interviewing stage, you may not be moving forward because you lack key message points that highlight your value, you give answers without examples, or you are not at your best.
  • At the closing stage, you may not be getting offers because you have job search fatigue that appears to be lack of interest, you don’t follow up and employers forget you while they interview others, or you show hesitation about the job or self-doubt.
  • You should be troubleshooting your job search at regular intervals by tracking your results data and by being honest with yourself.

Exercises

  1. Review the possible problems at each stage and look at your own search activity. Are you guilty of any of these shortfalls?
  2. If you have identified possible problems, do you know how to fix them?
  3. If you haven’t started your search, which stage do you think will be toughest for you? Most job seekers, especially for first jobs, have the most trouble with the identification stage because early in a career there is not a lot of experience to differentiate yourself in your marketing.
  4. Where could you use help with your search?