Finding work is hard, but with 149 million Americans employed it can be done. How can those looking for jobs avoid being overwhelmed and bewildered, and instead focus on what’s important?
First, when deciding among careers, consider which fields are not only suitable for you personally but will still be around and doing well after 10 to 20 more years of globalization, automation, and business efficiency. Positions with primary tasks that can be done cheaper by foreign workers or machines, or that can be done in much less time than they are today, are usually poor choices. Massage therapists and plumbers will be around for decades to come, but insurance underwriters (following algorithms that computers can also do) and most manufacturing machine operators (susceptible to being replaced by robots) will not.
Second, be aware that what you need most to get hired are specific, not general, experience, and being personally, not professionally, liked by the interviewer. Information technology project managers, regardless of how deeply they understand their work, will rarely be hired for the same in construction. And those working ever-longer hours do, right or wrong, want people around them they might choose as friends.
Third, limiting your search to applying for widely advertised positions is unlikely to get you working, even if your résumé looks like Mark Zuckerberg’s and your interviewing skills resemble Oprah Winfrey’s. Although electronic job boards have great value, applicants should seek out and pursue local and word-of-mouth opportunities as well.
Fourth, realize it’s not enough to avoid massive blunders, such as saying in your cover letter that you want to take over the world, or, at interview time, openly lusting after your would-be coworkers. Not perpetrating something similar will only put you in a not-so-elite group of 99% of all jobseekers, most of whom are not being hired. Being well-behaved and well-intentioned, along with your credentials, will often be enough to get you in the door, but after that, nearly all of your competition will match you on those counts.
Fifth, be ready for nontraditional job interview venues and practices. Unusual settings, such as a restaurant or even a hotel lobby, are becoming more common. Per relatively recent literature, the range of questions has widened, with such old saws as “sell me this pen” joined by the likes of “how many gas stations are in the United States?” The idea here is to keep on an even keel, do the best you can, and don’t worry about being perfect – your competitors probably won’t be either.
Sixth, if they show you in a good light, consider adding a career objectives or hobbies and interest sections to your résumé. After many years of undesirability, both are becoming more common, as are mentioning gradepoint averages if better than 3.0.
Seventh, don’t believe the recent nonsense about skipping cover letters. An article in Bloomberg last month said they are unnecessary, since interview behavior is more important. It missed the point that cover letters are designed to get interviews, not the other way around. Almost any human, even one spending only a few seconds on it, will expect and appreciate a smoother introduction than the beginning of a résumé.
Eighth, consider temporary help agencies. Since they are being paid by their clients, who can reject you with little or no penalty, and your work represents something the agency will make money to resell, you are an automatic asset to them, so they can be much more relaxed about whom they accept. They also offer a chance for you to audition for permanent positions, at which you can prove yourself through how you actually perform at the job, a more powerful draw for employers than the usual hiring process.
Ninth, take it easy on yourself! Very few jobs are lost by choosing the wrong reasonable interview, résumé, or workplace behavior tactics. It is all too easy for unsuccessful applicants to obsess about what they did wrong, and what they could have done differently that would have got them hired. Unless you were obviously disastrous, don’t sweat that sort of thing. In the huge majority of such cases, you probably, as cruel as it sounds, had no chance from the beginning. So much depends on finding a hiring manager with enough in common with you to like you personally, and, unless you are Pol Pot or Vlad the Impaler, you’ll come across one sooner or later. Accordingly, take a day or two off from the search, if you want, after a once-promising opportunity craps out. As radio talk show host Bruce Williams used to say, “it’s not easy out there, but give it your best shot.” And keep your head together – you’ll need it once you’re back on the job.