What is the single most important part of your job search? Is it your résumé? Your second interview?

By now you’ve heard that the most important step in getting your next job is having a great résumé because otherwise you won’t get an interview. Or perhaps you read recently that clearing your mind and focusing will be the greatest challenge in your job search because no one wants to hire someone, especially in the current economic environment who is in a funk, who is negative, or who doesn’t have his or her priorities straight. Maybe you received an email last week telling you that the phone interview is the most critical step in getting the job, or you read a blog stating that the first interview, or the second interview will be THE defining moment in your search. And certainly you know by now the importance of networking and maintaining just the right cyber-image.

So what is the single most important thing you can do to help you get a job? Well here is the answer, and I have to tell you, it’s not pretty because it makes the job of finding a job harder, is that it’s all of the above, but only one at a time. Yep! No mystery. The most pressing thing you have to do to get a job is whatever it is that you are doing now. I know that sounds like a copout, but the fact is that all of it, every single step in the process right down to eating right and getting enough sleep and exercise is important. And if you bet that any one is any more important AT THAT MOMENT than another, keep in mind that the stakes your betting is you, your family, your home, your lifestyle. In other words, why waste energy worrying if the job offer will be satisfactory until you’ve had an interview? Or why even worry if your hair will be neat the day of your interview until you’ve applied for the position and been invited in for an interview? Yes, these are important considerations, but only at the moment they will occur.

Let’s look at each of the following events or functions as a separate action: Dealing with the loss of your job; planning a course of action and consideration of alternative career paths; updating your résumé and cover letter; getting word to your network that you’re looking for a new position; responding to leads; following up on your submissions; talking to the HR rep on the phone; going to your first, second and any ensuing interviews and following up on them; dealing with and negotiating an offer, especially a weak one; and finally, dealing with rejection and starting all over again. If you can tell me which of those steps is any more important than the one before or after it, you are far more astute than I am. I’ve been on both sides of the hiring desk many times over the last 40+ year of my career, including the last twelve I’ve spent as a recruiter and career coach, and frankly, as far as I’m concerned the most important thing you can do to enhance your job search is the next thing you’re about to do.

Job loss:
You need some time to deal with it and clear your head. That’s important. Your employer’s need to downsize is just something you weren’t expecting when you joined the firm a few years ago. Life looked rosy then. Unfortunately, you decide, you just don’t have the time to lick your wounds; you need to feed your family, make your mortgage and car payments. If that’s your approach, fine, just keep in mind that if you totally ignore the need to come to terms with what actually happened, you run the risk of presenting yourself as negative, defensive, in a funk, or worse, angry. You need to annihilate those attitudes. If it’s not about you, but the times, accept that; if it is about you, if your job loss was the result of poor performance or your attitude, you need to identify that as well, figure out how to correct the problem and how best to present that to your next employer. If you don’t deal with it, it can be a deal-killer.

Planning a course of action: Well, just what do you do next? Do you review your résumé? Call a recruiter? Post your résumé to a job-board? Do you start identifying companies for which you’d like to work and visit their Websites? Apply for unemployment with the state? Maybe you need to let your friends and professional associates know that you’re in the market for a new job, or reassess your skills to see where they might have cross-over value. Actually, you’ll likely need to do it all, though not necessarily all at once. Some of these things can be done simultaneously but others may need to be done in an order. What you need to do here is decide for you which is which and then just do it. Keep in mind, though, that if you use being busy as an excuse for not being productive, you’re just wasting time – and time is a deal-killer.

Updating your résumé: Okay, so maybe you haven’t kept your résumé up to date on all of your promotions and accomplishments since you last brushed it off. Not wise, but like spilled milk it can be re-poured. You need to get your résumé up to date and up to today’s standards for a résumé. This is not a treatise on how to prepare a résumé, there’s enough on that already out there, including my own previous blog on constructing your résumé and cover letter. Keep in mind, though, that the competition today is pretty stiff for almost any position. There is a tremendous pool of talent available for any employer who is hiring and your résumé is your first chance to make a first impression. To give you an idea of that importance, there is an adage among recruiters, HR professionals, résumé writers and others who trade in human capital to the effect that while a good résumé won’t necessarily get you a job, a bad résumé won’t likely get you an interview. It’s a tough market out there right now; why not give yourself every edge that you can over your competition? Don’t let your résumé be a deal-killer.

Getting the word out: Networking. What an overused term. Joining groups, going to mixers, updating your profile on Facebook, Linkedin or other social Websites you might use, but, while the term may be overused, make no mistake, networking is essential. Like the best sales leads are the ones that come from referral business, your colleagues are an invaluable resource of just what’s going on in the market and may have just earlier today heard about an ideal opening for you. Your network should include your entire Rolodex, your former bosses, peers and subordinates (whose respect you’ve hopefully earned) your competitors, your customers, your vendors, your friends and other members of your personal and professional communities. If you’ve stayed in touch with them, great. If not, now might be a good time to correct that. While failing to network properly might not be a deal-killer, it can result in a failure to hear about a deal in the first place.

Responding to leads: If I have to expound on the importance of responding timely to a position, then you are wasting your time reading this blog. This should be self evident. You hear about an opening, you move on it – now. The question is whether it’s really an opening for you, because you don’t want to waste your time or muddy your waters by applying for positions that you know you will not accept. Don’t read more into this than necessary. If it is a job you want or an opening that can lead to one you want, go for it. Otherwise, don’t go through the motions and waste everyone’s including your own time. After all, why create a deal you know you’re going to kill yourself?

Work with a recruiter: If a recruiter contacts you about a job, listen to her, learn more about it. If you are conducting an aggressive job search there is nothing wrong (no matter what we say) in working with several of us. Just keep a couple of things in mind. First, you are not our clients; your potential employers are. And since they’re the ones that pay us, we do not have an obligation to present your candidacy to them just because you call us every other week to stay on our radar. Our goal is to fill the opening and that means presenting the strongest candidates possible. Unfortunately, that may not include you. That does not mean that we’re not empathetic to your plight and we don’t want to help you. Many of us will do all that we can for strong candidates with whom we’ve established a rapport and we believe will add value to our clients, or even whom might be able to open doors for us with new clients. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that all recruiters have your best interests at heart. When working with a recruiter, one major point is to make sure that you know the company to which your résumé is being submitted. Make sure it’s not one where either you or another search firm hasn’t already sent it. On the other hand, if your candidacy is passive rather than aggressive, select the one recruiter you think can do the best job for you while being discrete. In either event, make sure you can trust your recruiter to represent you timely, honestly, discretely and in the best possible light to her clients. If you stop trusting her, move on, otherwise, working with a recruiter, well it can be a deal-killer, and the recruiter can make sure of it.

Your phone interview – if you have one: Certainly, now that the résumé and/or the recruiter has done its jobs and gotten you recognized – along with several other candidates, the employer, not wishing to waste anyone’s time, has decided to have someone speak with you on the phone before inviting you in for an interview. This has got to be the most important step in the process, right? You need to ace this call, right? Yes, right. This has now become the next most important thing you can do to get the job. Phone interviews are different from face-to-face meetings. You need to be aware of your voice inflection, you need to be focused, and you need to be ready to answer more questions than you will likely have the opportunity to ask. There are plenty of tips on how to interview on the phone such as using a mirror to watch yourself, making sure your computer screen and TV are turned off, the kids are down for their naps, the dog has been fed so she won’t bark for her dinner, etc. Follow as many of them as makes sense for you. Remember, the phone interview has now become your most critical step in getting the job because it and it alone will lead to an invitation to come in and interview personally. Don’t let a barking dog or a lapse in attention result in being a deal-killer.

The face-to-face interview: Each interview is a step forward in the hiring process, so in assigning a value to any of them, you’ll find that the most important one is the next one coming up. You will need to be prepared for anything, including poor interviewing techniques on the interviewer’s part, off the wall questions, old skeletons, even your most recent employer’s reputation. You’ll need to go in exuding confidence but not cockiness, ready to ask as well as answer relevant questions. You will have to assess your interviewer and level the playing field as much as possible. You will need to do your homework. While your résumé is your first opportunity to make a first impression, your interview is your second and no less important opportunity to make a first impression. And first impressions count. There are plenty of tips available online about how to interview well, and certainly, if you are working with a recruiter of any credibility, he will prep you for the interview as well, right down to what color socks not to wear and where your interviewer went to school. Is the first interview more important than the second? Yes, but only during the first interview. During the second interview it will become the most important. And during the twelfth interview (if you still want the job by then) that one will be the most important, even if it’s a dinner meeting with people you’ve already connected with and who have said you’re a shoe-in for the position, because until you have that offer in hand, perhaps contingent on proving that you know which fork to use and how not to embarrass yourself when you have a drink, you are not a shoe-in, and every interview can be a deal-killer.

The offer: Hooray! You got an offer. You don’t have to worry about any more deal-killers, right? Wrong. Let’s say the offer isn’t where you need, want or expected it to be but you want the job. You now have to negotiate a better package without shooting yourself in the foot. Can you do that? Can your recruiter do that? Possibly and hopefully, but maybe not. Maybe there’s an extenuating reason that the offer was cut and you need to understand it. How you go about learning what that is, how you negotiate the offer and position yourself for growth down the road, has all now become your next most important step in the process – and by next, I don’t mean in level of importance, but in sequence. At some point the offer will be whatever it is and you will be faced with a decision which is every bit as important as every other step in the process has been at the time it occurred. How you reject an offer for a job you still want can kill the process. Sometimes, even how you accept an offer, can result in its rescission, so don’t let a lapse in business sense, or a careless display of a lack of maturity kill your deal. It’s yours to hold on to and that’s important.

The fact is that every one of these steps is critical to you getting your next job. Can you go it alone? Perhaps. You are a professional and you’ve sat on the other side of the desk, so you’re savvy, right? Can finding everything you need on the Internet reduce the risk of you becoming road-kill on the job market superhighway? Yes. What about a good recruiter? That can definitely improve your odds. A career coach? Maybe even better. So, you ask, what do you need to do to get the job? You need to recognize that each and every step in the process is critical to getting you to your next step. You need to use common sense. And you need to remember, win or lose, it’s not about you. From a business perspective if you get the job it’s only because you are perceived as the best person in terms of training, experience, skills, attitude and culture-fit. If you don’t get the job, it’s because someone else did a better job of presenting that image.

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Comment by Hassan Rizwan on October 28, 2009 at 7:47am
Well Hal. A very long article but the good thing is that you have given the entire path to seek a job which kept my interest alive. One of the points which were not stressed too much in your discussion is that one must do self analysis while sitting idle or seeking a job. Self assessments help you to figure out your strengths, weaknesses and the edge by which you can pierce the competition.


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