5 Ways to Reclaim Your Power in Your Job Search or Career

Humans have a primal need to be heard, acknowledged, and appreciated.  The job search process, even working, can give people quite the opposite experience. Putting yourself out there, crossing your fingers, and hoping that someone likes you enough to talk to is degrading.

The default mode of job seeking is reactive; you see a job opening posted, then you follow the instructions on the platform or in the job description to apply. You then get funneled in with all the other applications and hope that it is received and that your value is appealing enough to get an invitation to take next steps. The ball is in the other court this whole time.

But statistics show that we are in a very strong job-seekers market. There have been more job openings in the US than unemployed workers for a good year now.

How can that be? Wouldn’t that mean that all applicants would get a fair chance? No. Of course, you need a strong résumé, rich with keywords used in context to demonstrate your qualifications. However, using your résumé purely as a tool for job applications is a disempowered strategy.

There are things that you can do to make things happen in your job search, and you may not believe that it’s true until it happens to you. This means that you should experiment. Give a few, or all of these tactics a try and allow yourself 3 weeks of dedicated effort in job searching. During this time, stop spending your time on reactive activities such as scouring job boards and applying online. If something pays off with an introduction, interview, or offer, keep doing it and abandon what hasn’t been successful.

I’ll bet you’ll like how it feels to know that you can not only generate leads that you would never have found on Indeed, but that you can also get others to generate leads for you and multiply your results without multiplying your time. Generate leads, generate momentum, and then have your choice of position rather than only being able to consider those jobs that you found on job boards when everyone else is vying for the same jobs.

I’ll bet one of the methods below will lead you to have an interview for an opportunity that outside job seekers don’t even know about yet. All of the methods below have worked for my clients, so they have already been proven to succeed.

In order to make this work optimally, you will need*:

  • A branded résumé that not only qualifies you, but makes your unique value evident.
  • A complete, branded LinkedIn profile written in 1st person that supplements and compliments your résumé (not replicates it) and shows that you are a dynamic, interesting person outside of your work as well.
  • A target list of at least 25 companies that have cultures that will enable you to thrive – this activity will lead to positive momentum, and an acceptable job offer if you’re not wasting time making progress with companies where you ultimately would not want to work. THIS LIST IS NOT BASED ON JOB POSTINGS YOU’VE SEEN. This might sound counter-intuitive, but the point of these proactive efforts is to pursue organizations based on their fit to you, not whether they have an opening for you!

* If you don’t have all three of the following, schedule a free consultation with me.

1. Volunteer

It’s not always easy finding opportunities to volunteer, as strange as that sounds. I was new in business when I first started volunteering and I pursued well-known organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the Red Cross, but opportunities seemed to be targeted at organized groups, not individuals. I spoke with a client who was also involved in local government and asked about opportunities in the community. Because of that, I wound up being a race marshal and handing out water to runners at a couple of 5Ks. These were great opportunities, and they got me started, but I didn’t meet anyone, and it wasn’t always clear when I showed up of how I was going to help. Sometimes I took it upon myself to help out in the best way I could, and then found out I was doing it wrong. This was still good experience for me, and you need to remember that some organizations are better at volunteer training than others.

But, it doesn’t matter how you start. Just start. If you’ve been undervalued at your job or you have been transitioning for a while, it is easy to forget why you are so valuable. Being helpful in any way can remind you of your value. It doesn’t always create a direct line to opportunity, but it can potentially. It’s led to many opportunities for me and my clients. Check out opportunities at volunteermatch.org. See what non-profits leaders in your target companies support. Ask avid networkers you know where movers and shakers they know volunteer their time and talents.

In past articles, I encouraged you to volunteer at professional organization events, like volunteering to speak on a topic within your expertise that can help other professionals be more successful, or you can pick a cause for which you have passion. If you spend your free time worrying about a problem, you’ll gain power by doing something about it.

Volunteering is something you’ll want to add to your LinkedIn profile and it something that can look favorable to companies that value and promote community and social impact. Also, it’s much harder to validate that you are passionate about something if you aren’t spending time in it or doing it. You know you are passionate when you would spend your time doing something whether you are paid or not. Everyone says they’re passionate, volunteering proves it.

2. Approach letters

If you have a cover letter template, scrap it. I’m not talking about a cover letter that you attach to your online application, which can be a way to find out if you have strong written communication skills. I’m talking about a letter of interest that you send directly to your would-be direct supervisor in your target company. The qualification for who receives it is NOT based on the recipient having a posted job opening, but if the company has a need, challenge, or initiative that you can bolster by being part of the team. This is not a request for a job, but rather a request to talk further about the company’s future plans and how you can support them. It’s more like you are a consultant who is trying to identify whether you offer a skill or service that this company needs, but you do your homework ahead of time and drop some bread crumbs that entice the recipient to know what the recipe is.

The letter must explicitly lay out what you know about the company, and how that implicates your added value. Connect the dots between the problem and how you have added value to such endeavors in the past. The call to action is to invite the recipient to a 20-minute discovery call, just to see if what you offer is a match for what they need.

Even if you are committed to a full-time permanent opportunity, position yourself as someone flexible about terms. This also communicates that you are confident that you can add value in the short term.  While you are there adding short-term value, you can gain insights that enable you to pitch a long-term value proposition.  Make yourself indispensable, and you will have the leverage to ask for all the perks and benefits of a full-time employee, plus a signing bonus. This will require you to do some market research on an hourly rate that will help you cover costs an employer would normally cover, plus self-employment tax for working as a sole proprietor.

This approach requires being bold. Fortune favors the bold, in case you hadn’t heard. If your confidence isn’t quite there yet, volunteer your skills to a non-profit and add value until you feel confident moving forward. Again, this is an experiment, so try this with about 5 companies.

3. Take on a leadership role in a professional or community organization

60% of recruiters are specifically looking for this kind of engagement through your social media. It takes a village to run successful events and programs.

There are steps that lead to engaging as a leader in an organization. You don’t just jump right into it.

Step 1 – Observe. Check out several organizations to determine which one has the kind of people, programs, and mission statement that resonate with your career mission.

Step 2 – Join. Attend regular meetings where you will naturally become more acquainted with other members and the breadth of what is offered.

Step 3 – Volunteer. Many organizations crave doing more, but they need the manpower to do it. Look for the board names on the organization’s website. Ask them what initiatives they have tabled because of lack of manpower, or what additional help they could use to make their events and programs even better. If that doesn’t fit what you do, make a referral and keep looking for opportunities. Remember to follow up frequently. Many of these organizations are full of people who have other full-time obligations and won’t easily remember who offered what help.

Step 4 – Lead. Once you get to see events and programs from the inside you’ll better understand the undertaking of running them. It’s a natural progression to lead one event or get involved in the organization’s operations and strategy or do both. It comes with visibility, but is not without its conflicts – even the best organizations. It’s how conflicts are handled that will influence how long you remain involved in the organization, I have found.

4. LinkedIn outreach

Just to be clear, outreach is not the same as clicking on “send invite” for all of the people LinkedIn suggests or who appear in a search. That’s as good as spam; your low success rates will deceive you into thinking that people are not looking to connect on LinkedIn when that is exactly why they are on LinkedIn. People only make progress through REAL connections, not superficial ones. This means having shorter, well-vetted lists and custom invitations. You can increase your chances of having your invitation accepted if 1) the person you’re inviting to connect to is actually active on LinkedIn and 2) you engage with that person’s content.  The first step is to follow this person. This will be an option if they are active. (If they aren’t, see the next item on the list.)

Once you follow someone, you are notified when they engage on other people’s content as well as when they create and share their own. It matters little which you engage with, but if it is other’s people content, respond directly to their comment on it. If it is their original content, share it, tag them, and take care to write something insightful that will inspire others to give their content some love and attention. Then send them a customized invitation to connect, making mention of how much you appreciated their content.

Just like the approach letter, the goal is to take that initial connection to the next step, and connect offline via phone call, video chat, or in-person meeting.  Initially, just ask for 20 minutes. The point is to determine if there is enough synergy to invest more time. Make sure you have 5 good, specific questions based on their background that can help you understand who they are, where they’ve been and how they got “here.” Also, make sure you ask the #1 most important question – what introductions, resources, or support would help move your most important projects forward faster? Don’t just ask generally, “How can I help you?” This is a burdensome question. How could they know what you can do to help? Find out first what they want most, and then tell them how you can help. Also, deliver your call to action, which will help them self-identify that they are someone you are qualified to help.

This works! First, target people in your focus company, but do it also with other professionals in your field, fellow alumni, thought leaders, authors, and influencers.

5. Try a brand new platform

Recruiters are taught to go where the talent is. So, whenever a platform gains popularity, recruiters are tasked to evaluate how it can be leveraged to get in front of talent where other recruiters are not. It might surprise you to know that because of this, 63% of recruiters in tech companies are using Instagram.  That’s just recruiters, though. If they’re looking for talent here, could your future supervisor be also?

Marketers are always looking at ways that they can catch consumers in the flow of their day and interrupt their attention with messages that resonate. Where is your future supervisor hanging out? This may take a bit of research, and the findings may be very different from target to target.

I have had clients say “Twitter is stupid,” but they suspended their skepticism and tried it because a simple search showed that their targets were active with personal and company handles. If you are involved with an organization that uses Slack, try it out. There’s a learning curve to any new platform, but a good three weeks will get you comfortable enough to leverage it. Just like organizations, observe first, then engage. Try a few different things.

Other platforms are meetup.org, Reddit, Quora, Snapchat, Musical.ly, AngelList, f6s, and I’m sure you’ll find some Listservs and Yahoo groups that are still being used. There are abundantly more platforms and there will continue to be more. You don’t have to learn them all, but if you find out that people you know, respect, and would want to work for are on them, get familiar.

Companies have needs well before they have formally posted job openings. This is the “hidden job market” you may have heard about but weren’t sure existed. It exists, and it’s a gold mine of opportunity for those who can unlock it. The best part is that the hidden job market is where you are the driver of opportunity. Once you know how to access it, there’s no unknowing it, but you might fall back into reactive job searching if you don’t make it a habit.

Once you find one or two methods that work for you and your target employer audience, dedicate most of your job search time to it. Abandon what disempowers you and fails to generate opportunity.

Then the challenge shifts to keeping track of all of that momentum. You’ll spend more time in meetings, interviews, and negotiations, and there will be little time for job boards and online applications, anyway.

Because of that, you’ll want to be very selective from that point forward on what companies and leaders you invest time getting to know better.

Most importantly, you’ll be able to spend more time doing the things you love.

The success will be a natural motivator, so you won’t have to push yourself every day to make efforts.

You may even start to enjoy creating career opportunity so much that you form habits that you maintain during your employment and you’ll never have to be out of work ever again.

That’s power!

Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business  She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where her students won the 2018 national competition and were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs.

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