Whether you’re starting a job search to boost your salary, change industries or get back into the workforce, a job hunt in 2021 will be unlike any other.
The rules and strategies of job hunting have changed; there are new tools and platforms, remote work offers unique possibilities and there have been major industry shakeups, especially in the wake of COVID-19.
Maybe you know the job hunting basics: an error-free resume, a cover letter that connects your strengths with the job description and a firm digital handshake on the Zoom interview.
But most people don’t realize: there is a science and art to a successful job search. It’s more than a spell checked resume and applying to every job that catches your eye. Your job hunt is more complicated than ever before—but you also have more opportunities and advantages than ever before.
To help break down the complexities of a career transition, I recently spoke via Zoom with Angie Lee, an executive career coach and personal branding expert who uses her own impressive corporate experience to help job seekers become irresistible to hiring managers and recruiters.
In this 3 part series, you’ll learn how to navigate each step of your job search, from the pre-application period to the application phase to the interview and acceptance finale. You’ll find actionable tips you probably haven’t heard before—plus discover the mistakes job seekers make that cost them opportunities.
Here’s part one of our (abridged) conversation:
Luiz: Angie, thanks for taking the time. First of all, how did you start helping people with their careers—and why?
Angie: As you know, we spend much of our lives at work, so it’s important we love what we do, that we earn what we’re worth—and that’s part of the inspiration behind helping my clients.
Before I worked for a Fortune 100, I was a hiring manager for over 15 years. I saw behind-the-scenes of what to really look for in candidates, so I had a good view of “the other side” that job seekers never see. It gives me an edge in helping my clients translate their accomplishments and experience into landing their dream job.
Luiz: If someone is about to start looking for a new job, what’s the first thing you recommend they do?
Angie: It’s tempting to start sending out resumes, I know. It feels productive—but you should actually focus on planning your job search before sending a single application.
First, plan to run a targeted job search and avoid the mass application strategy. On average, with a success rate of 2-3.4%, it takes 50 applications to land one interview, but don’t mistake volume for quality. You’re better off planning out 10-20 target companies and researching them, strategizing your fit and reviewing your networking strategy than blasting out 100 generic resumes.
As you plan, think about how you fit the positions you’re interested in. Think about the challenges they are trying to solve with this role and how you can contribute. Look at your network for who works there—even former clients, vendors or alumni.
It’s only after you’ve done this planning phase that you’re ready to start writing or editing your resume and cover letter because now you know exactly what it takes to get the attention of hiring managers.
Luiz: What other mistakes do you see people making in the early job search phase?
Angie: Great question. The other problem I see is not obvious, but it’s really problematic: people don’t realize that they’re marketing themselves and selling their success, skills and experience. People treat their resumes and cover letters like a list of job descriptions, not a marketing tool.
In marketing, you create content for a specific audience so it engages the exact people you want to reach. That’s how you should approach your resume, cover letter and broader job search.
Your job search is really about helping companies find you and understand how you help them succeed, whether that’s more sales, great leadership or better governance.
If you’re pivoting to a new industry, you can still market yourself effectively… even if you lack industry experience, education or skills. You can show what you do have and will bring to the role, highlighting experience and skills that transfer well. You’d be surprised how often a hiring manager isn’t even focused on those gaps!
Luiz: While someone is writing a resume or cover letter, how can they get hiring managers or recruiters to see it and say: wow, this person is really impressive?
Angie: One of my go-to’s is avoiding task-based language and instead using results- or number-based language to make your resume a proposal for employment.
For example, I worked with a client who said they were “responsible for implementing strategies”. Not that impressive—and a hiring manager can’t tell how important their work was.
After we dug into it, they actually impacted billions in revenue, thousands of employees and drove a double-digit margin increase. When they updated their resume with data and specific numbers, it went from underwhelming to impressive. Finally, a hiring manager could see their value.
Luiz: Any other quick tips on resumes and cover letters?
Angie: Absolutely. Remember your personal brand differentiates you from every other job seeker out there, so your resume and cover letter must communicate your unique, impressive brand. If you look like every other candidate—the same resume layout, the same generic skills—an interview is unlikely.
I also recommend working with someone, unless you have design skills yourself, to lay out a resume in a clean, modern format. Unfortunately, it’s easy to miss an interview opportunity if your resume is text-heavy or laid out poorly; your accomplishments and fit for the job get missed.
Next, never forget that a person may read your resume, but so will an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), which is the software used to track and save applications.
This software is programmed to look for specific keywords and phrases, prioritizing resumes that seem to be the best fit. Always look at the phrases and keywords in the job descriptions you’re applying to. Make sure those same keywords appear in your resume and cover letter to show you’re a match for the role.
At this stage, I see people make a mistake over and over: they upload their resume, hit submit and are asked to re-enter the same information into a text-field form—and they write ‘See resume’. It is frustrating, I know, to add information you just uploaded but take the time to fill out the form. Typically, the resume upload is for the recruiter or hiring manager and the text field is for the applicant tracking system.
On final tip, though there are tons more: always send your resume over as a PDF to prevent any formatting issues. And the file name? Don’t just send “RESUME PDF”. Make the recruiter’s job easier and include your last name and the company or role you’re applying to.
Luiz: Is it worth being active on LinkedIn? Or, are there better strategies to get the attention of a recruiter?
Angie: Having worked as a hiring manager, I can say with confidence: absolutely, LinkedIn matters! Almost every recruiter uses LinkedIn to find and assess candidates, so I highly recommend working with an expert in LInkedIn optimization.
To get the most from LinkedIn, change your title on LinkedIn to the role you’re targeting, plus a clear, concise one-liner. What 3 strengths do you uniquely offer? Make sure to include that along with why that matters to the companies you want to work with.
Many of the same resume tips apply to LinkedIn—showing results, mentioning relevant skills, keywords, so once you’ve updated your resume, update your LinkedIn.
One advantage of LinkedIn is that it’s a great chance to use storytelling and share why you do what you do. Storytelling hooks readers and makes them want to learn more—including recruiters. It helps them get a feel for who you are and what you bring to their team, plus shows some personality and creativity. LinkedIn is the perfect place to do this.
Luiz: What about networking on LinkedIn? How can you do that well… without being pushy or invasive?
Angie: Your network—on and off LinkedIn—is really your best tool. LinkedIn actually found that networking led to about 85% of job offers. Use your network to tap into the hidden job market, those opportunities that never get listed and you only find from word of mouth. Plus, it’s an easy way to go from an anonymous resume in the company’s ATS to a real candidate.
Your LinkedIn Connections may be able to help you with your job search. It never hurts to send a friendly message to reintroduce yourself, especially if it could result in a lead with a company you’re interested in! What could be better than having a former colleague introduce you to the manager of a role you’re after? Nothing.
If you’re looking for a more organic way to network, try to uncover where the hiring managers you want to interview with hang out on LinkedIn. Is there a LinkedIn group you can join, publish an article in and get noticed? Joining these groups also makes it easy to reach out to a hiring manager via InMail, mentioning a comment or post they made.
Luiz: If someone wants help from a pro to land their dream job, what should they look for in a career coach?
Angie: Choosing a career coach is one part personality match and one part competence. You want to make sure they have the skills to help you—and that you work well together!
Ask a career coach how much experience they have helping people from your industry or at your seniority level. You definitely want someone who has helped a professional like you lead a successful job search.
I would also ask them about their action plan to help you find a new role. What services do they provide? Are they focusing on things that matter, like optimizing your resume and LinkedIn profile and coaching you in interview skills? What will they do if you’re not getting interviews or attention within a few weeks or working together?
If the coach has a solid track record helping people like you, you communicate well and you feel they can bring you value, you should feel confident moving forward with them.
Getting the pre-application phase right means coordinating research, networking, resume writing, LinkedIn optimization—and some personal reflection on your next role. However, with the right plan and perhaps a professional helping you along the way, this is a powerful foundation for eventually accepting your dream job.
In the next piece, discover how to improve your chances while applying for positions, the best way to work with recruiters and much more.
If you have questions for Angie, feel free to leave them in the comments below.