The internet is filled with job-hunting tips. You’ve probably read some that say obvious things like ‘be assertive’, ‘promote yourself’ or ‘network’. Wisdom like this is all very nice, but it’s difficult to see how it actually helps and can actually lead to more discouragement. What does it actually mean to be assertive? How do you promote yourself? Who in the world actually networks? Networking is for cheesy lounge-lizards in a shiny suit. Real people don’t network, they live life and encounter people accidentally. Trying to navigate who you meet accidentally is a bit obsessive for my taste. It’s not particularly sound advice, either. I have never seen anyone get a job or opportunity by going to a wine-and-cheese party and pulling out a little black book. Advice like this is for life inside a Hollywood film, and doesn’t translate well in ‘real life’. Too often, online advice-givers wax lyrical about vague methods of pursuing the job-hunting process. The irony isn’t lost; this too is a blog which is designed to help job-seekers. The difference, however, is that the advice on this site is honest and sometimes hard to hear. As a result, the advice which follows is intended to be practical and bring you closer to securing your desired job position, instead of relying on clichéd platitudes which have no real substance or validity.
Don’t apply for every job you find
It’s tempting to send out fifty applications a month in order to convince yourself that it increases the chances of being hired. Not true. If you’re sending out more than twelve to twenty applications a month (three to five a week) you’re not being selective about what you apply for. In fact, I would advise only applying for around ten jobs per month; ten jobs you have the credentials for is better than a hundred with gaps in your application. Only apply for things you’re qualified and/or experienced for. This sounds obvious, but we’ve all been tempted to apply for the jobs we would love to do and have most of the essential criteria for. Any jobs with essential criteria are advertised like this for a reason: the employer is not in the mood for time-wasters, and all of the criteria listed are essential to performing the job. It wastes precious company time to train someone in these things, so it’s easier to hunt out someone who already knows how to do them. When you see a job with essential or desirable criteria, be ruthless. Don’t convince yourself you can apply for it just because you can tick eight of the essential requirements out of nine. This missing requirement means you just wasted your time entirely. As well as this, don’t bargain with yourself that it’s ok to apply for it because you have say, five of six, essential requirements and two desirable ones. The desirable requirements are not interchangeable with the essential ones. The only time you should apply for a position with essential requirements is if you can fulfil all of them confidently, regardless of whatever else you can bring to the table.
Be honest with yourself
If you are job-hunting and consistently come across the same gaps in your credentials, you need to consider filling in those gaps. For example, if you are a software development graduate who has really only ever used one type of code-writing language and you come across job after job which requires you to be familiar with another, it’s time to update your skills. Just because you have the qualifications doesn’t always mean you know enough. It can be very discouraging to learn that most companies expect things that you didn’t learn at university, but this is the reality of the working world. You need to take situations like this and use them to your advantage. You may have to put in extra time and money, but it will profit you in the long run when you return to applying for similar jobs and find that your skills are more relevant to what employers want.
Know what you want
It’s easy to say that you should take any job so you can make some money, but much harder to do. It’s difficult to find the motivation to work a low-paying job when you spent years getting your qualifications. When you find yourself unemployed for six months or more, it’s easy to succumb to outside influences and just apply for anything you see. I’m not condoning laziness or sitting on the dole, but it doesn’t solve anything to go out and get a job which doesn’t have anything to do with your long-term career goals when you could be building your portfolio or gaining experience or doing something useful and productive that helps you become a more appealing applicant. There is nothing wrong with taking on a job to pay bills, but make sure that you don’t forget your ambitions. If you find yourself desperately needing to improve your finances, take these kinds of jobs on a temporary basis while ensuring to spend free time researching what you need to do in order to have a relevant and competitive application for the jobs you really want. At times like these, even hobbies can become part of your long-term plan. If you want to be a writer and find yourself working in a clothes shop, don’t lose faith. Spend your days off work writing or join a local writing club. It takes determination and energy, but if you really want something in the future, you can handle sacrificing some TV time to get closer to your end goal.
Hopefully, the tips above will help you to see why you’re finding it difficult to get a job, or why you keep falling into dead-end jobs that last a few months. Take time to reflect about what it is you really want to do. Too often when people are asked what they’d like to do it appears to the onlooker that they don’t really know. The reality is that people always know their dreams and ambitions; they just lack the courage or dedication it takes to follow them. I am a true believer in the idea that we all create our own universe and construct our own reality. We can’t blame everything on fate, God, or destiny. Sometimes we have to stand up and be accountable for our lives. The best advice of all that I can give is to trust no one but yourself when it comes to what you want to do with your life. Too often people are naive and listen to too many outside voices such as parents, mentors, or career advisors. No one knows better than you what you are good at and which job would give you most fulfilment.
by Gillian Rixey
(Gillian is a PhD qualified freelance writer and scholar born in Ireland but currently residing in the United States.)