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How to Make Your Job Search Productive

How to Make Your Job Search Productive

Job searching is a time-consuming, stressful process. If you’re unemployed, it becomes your full-time job, and if you already have a job but are looking for a new one, it’s like taking a second job (that you can’t tell your first job about!). However, there are ways to organize your time and energy to make your job search productive — and a productive job search is one that gets you hired.

First, let’s think about all the parts of a successful job search:

  1. Networking — maintaining current and making new contacts
  2. Monitoring your online presence
  3. Searching for jobs
  4. Researching companies
  5. Updating resumes
  6. Writing cover letters
  7. Applying to jobs
  8. Following up on applications
  9. Interviewing for jobs
  10. Following up on interviews

That’s 10 basic steps for a typical job interview, and at least eight of those you’re doing over and over again. How can you make this a more productive process? Follow these tips:

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1) Make a daily plan for yourself.

For example:

  • Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays: Follow up with one networking contact each day
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays: Research new companies to apply to, make one new networking contact
  • Every Thursday: Google your name and update your social networking sites if necessary.
  • Every Friday: Follow up on job applications you sent the previous week

2) Maintain a spreadsheet of your activities.

This should include a sheet for the jobs you’ve applied to (with which companies, on what date, to whom, and with which resume/letter, and dates of follow-up). You should have a separate sheet of the networking contacts you’ve followed up with (who, when, what transpired, leads to follow up with). Make part of your daily routine updating this sheet to stay on track.

3) Use technology to job search for you.

Most job search websites offer you free alerts, via either email or text, when a new job is posted that matches your search. Some even offer Twitter feeds that tweet new job postings as they come in. Choose whichever type of alert is most convenient for you, and choose daily or to-the-minute updates so you learn about new job openings as soon as they are posted.

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4) Always rework resumes and cover letters for specific jobs.

You don’t have to rewrite your entire resume and cover letter for every job you apply to, but you should update keywords, your Summary of Qualifications, and your letter’s content for each job. It may take you longer, but your applications will be much more targeted and effective. Here are some ways to customize your resumes and cover letters:

For your cover letter:

  • Research the company’s website and mention, in one sentence, why you are interested in working for this company specifically. What’s their mission statement? Their community involvement? Their products?
  • Speak directly to the main required and preferred qualifications in the job description. This makes it easy for the recruiter to discover that you are qualified for the position.
  • Clearly explain why you are passionate and excited about the job, and give them a positive sense of who you are.

For your resume:

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  • Circle the keywords in the job description’s qualifications section to pinpoint the employer’s wants in an employee.
  • Integrate some of these keywords into your resume, perhaps by rewriting a bullet or two in your work histories.
  • Use a “Summary of Qualifications” section at the top that can be easily changed depending on the job. Include three to four bullets that describe your unique qualifications for the position.

5) Hire a reputation protector.

If you’re worried that your online image could impact your job search, but you don’t have the time to monitor the web every day, consider outsourcing this to one of many companies that specialize in online reputation management. Companies like Reputation.com will constantly monitor your online reputation, alert you to new findings, and help you resolve issues. You spend less time worrying about this and more time crafting excellent job applications. Find other ways to outsource your job search.

6) Use niche job search sites.

Big box job search sites are like big box stores. They might have every type of job out there, but they’re large, not job seeker-focused, and often difficult to navigate with too many ads and scams mixed in. Smaller, niche job sites are targeted to specific industries, job types, or experience levels so you’ll find a small group of better-fitting job postings, and they’re more likely to be responsive to job seekers’ needs than a large site.

To find niche job search sites:

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  • Google your industry or career keywords and “job search website” or “career website” to see what comes up.
  • Join professional associations and see what other members recommend.
  • Read industry-specific websites to see what job search sites they recommend.

These steps help you save time and become a more productive job seeker and a better applicant. As a job seeker, you need to spend your time on what’s most important — networking, finding the right opportunities, and tailoring your applications to suit each job.

Featured photo credit:  Successful business people standing over blue sky via Shutterstock

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Brie Weiler Reynolds

Senior Career Specialist at FlexJobs

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Last Updated on April 17, 2019

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

What’s the secret of professional success? Some of it lies in the mastery of your discipline and all the technical skills you have to carry out your job; but a much bigger part lies in the soft skills list you possess.

Soft skills are your people or relationship skills—how well you get along with others and your ability to communicate and collaborate—as well as the personal characteristics you bring to the job, such as optimism, a can-do attitude and the motivation to work hard. These skills are not always easy to point out, but their absence can cause serious problems and negatively affect the whole work atmosphere.

They say that hard skills will help you get the job, but soft skills will help you get along—and get ahead. With that in mind, here’s the top-10 essential soft skills list to help you advance your career.

1. Communication Skills

Communication skills are hands-down the most sought-after soft skill that bosses want, and this one ability covers a lot of ground.

To communicate well, you have to listen carefully, interpret the context of the conversation, express yourself clearly, persuade others of your point of view, check your body language and use an engaging presentation style that won’t intimidate or bore your audience. That’s a big ask!

Your personality traits can influence the way you communicate with others. For instance, some people get straight to the point and center their arguments around facts and logic; others are cooperative and sensitive to how others feel. Both these approaches are equally valuable but there can be misunderstandings if you don’t understand where the other person is coming from.

Taking a comprehensive personality test can help you understand why you communicate the way you do and where your blind spots are. It can also help you understand other communication styles is so you can tailor your communication to the person you’re dealing with.

After all, connecting with your conversation partner is the hallmark of good communication.

2. Flexibility

Change is an essential part of any business. Companies need employees who are flexible enough to work with new initiatives, open to new ideas, and generally are able to tough it out when things don’t go as planned.

Research has found a link between job performance and flexibility over the long term because there will be times when you have to step outside your routine and rise to fresh challenges that didn’t exist before.

Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to hop into a new task or job role like an expert. Rather, it’s about showing you’re willing to accept new responsibility and learn different things.

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Bosses look for people who are prepared to step outside their comfort zones and are open to alternative solutions when their first idea doesn’t work.

3. Being a Team Player

Working on a team can be challenging but learning to do it well can definitely help you get ahead in your career. Employers look for people who can negotiate, cooperate and manage conflicts with other people to achieve a common goal. That includes the ability to build lasting relationships with customers and clients.

What makes a good team player? Essentially, it’s someone who knows the goal and knows her role. Employers look for evidence that you know your strengths, your responsibilities and how you can best contribute to the team, then put those skills into action by sharing ideas and communicating in a respectful manner. That’s the definition of being a good team player.

This is another area where taking a personality test can help you get ahead. When teams work together, each member brings a unique set of skills and qualities to the group. Research has shown that different combinations of personalities affect how teams collaborate and how productive they are.

Knowing who you are, and how you work on a team, can drive new insights and open the door to better teamwork.

4. Positive Mental Attitude

There are plenty of things you can’t change at work, like the people you work with or the fact that the printer is broken again. The one thing you can change is how much you let these things bother you.

Bosses like people who are calm, rational and upbeat—those who diffuse tensions in the workplace, not get all grouchy and go around slamming doors.

Studies show that people who maintain a sunny disposition have better relationships at work, are happier in their jobs and make better decisions than those who whine and complain. Some suggest that a positive mental attitude can also make you live longer—which means it’s beneficial for every area of your life![1]

It’s not always easy to keep a “glass half full” mentality when work is stressful and the deadlines are piling up. But there are some things you can do to help maintain a positive attitude. Laughing at your unfortunate circumstances keeps the work environment positive, and taking “sanity” breaks can help you keep your cool in high-pressure situations.

Managers look for positive mental attitude in a team member that is ready for a promotion, so it really does pay to keep your cool in challenging situations.

5. A Strong Work Ethic

People with a strong work ethic are committed to the role, persevere when things get tough and are inspired by challenge. These people are ambassadors for the organization, and will always be seen as top talent and ideal candidates.

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If you can exhibit this skill, then expect to be seen as a great candidate, eligible for new opportunities and positions throughout your career.

Since a strong work ethic can mean different things to different people, it helps to show specific examples of your exceptional work ethic during a performance appraisal or interview. For instance, you might talk about:

  • A time when you persisted in the face of challenges and did not shy away from hard work.
  • How you volunteered to help with projects even though these tasks did not form part of your job description.
  • The networking, workplace learning and skills betterment you’ve undertaken, which shows ambition and drive (people with a strong work ethic have those qualities in spades).
  • How you own your mistakes and never, ever point the finger of blame at others.

For help with building a strong work ethic, check out these tips: How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

6. Public Speaking

Who’s terrified of public speaking? Pretty much everyone, since public speaking is America’s number one fear, ahead of death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

Yet, according to Warren Buffett, mastering this one skill you could increase your personal value by 50 percent.[2] That’s huge!

If you’re not natural at public speaking, you’re in good company. Buffett had to work hard to overcome his stage fright and once dropped out of a public-speaking course before it started—because he was afraid of public speaking! He eventually realized that he needed to build up his confidence by just doing it; over and over in front of small groups.

For a more structured approach, Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a variety of pathways. Membership of this non-profit looks good on your resume but the real payoff will come when you can put your newfound skills to use on the job or in the interview room.

Or, you can check out this advice: The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

7. Integrity

From a manager’s point of view, the two integrity skills that will set you apart are:

  • Always doing what you say you will do
  • Owning an error instead of minimizing or hiding it

…even when no one is around to check up on you.

There are lots of people who have climbed the ladder without scruples, but they are not the people who others trust, respect and support when promotion time comes around.

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Behaving with integrity is a safe and consistent way to enhance your reputation and achieve your professional goals.

8. Managing Your Time

Phone calls, texts, Slack pings, meetings, huddles, side projects, multitasking—we are busier today than any generation before us. There’s no denying the workplace is an incredibly distracting place to be.

A lot of us have traded effectiveness for busyness which we wear as a badge of honor, both as a proxy for productivity and to show our value to the company. But what bosses want, what they really, really want, is someone who actually gets stuff done on time.

Time management is not merely the art of being on time, but of managing your time so you focus on the projects that really matter and add value to the business. This means prioritizing well, sticking to schedules, delegating, and not getting distracted by tasks that are easier to perform or less important. It means planning ahead and learning when it’s appropriate to say no.

Time management can be a tough skill to maintain, but not a difficult one to pick up. Monitor your actions for a few days—how long do your tasks take to finish? What’s interrupting you? What causes you to lose focus? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can set a schedule for yourself to make sure you’re spending your time wisely and this valuable asset is never wasted.

These 20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity are also great to try.

9. Assertiveness

In any workplace, you typically will find people with the following conflict styles:

  • Passive: Those who go out of their way to avoid conflict.
  • Passive-aggressive: Those who express their negative feelings through actions rather than words.
  • Aggressive: Those who respond to conflict in a hostile and rude manner. These people get their opinion heard but they won’t make any friends in the process.
  • Assertive: People who stick up for their rights while still respecting the rights of others.

Managers look for assertiveness above all other styles because it allows decisions to be made without conflict or alienating people.

How do you use this information for yourself?

It starts with understanding your personality so you can anticipate how you will react when conflict arises and address your own shortcomings. Then, you can start influencing the team for top results, and securing your own career advancement in the process.

Learn how to be assertive and gain respect:

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How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way

10. Creative Thinking

LinkedIn recently analyzed over 50,000 skills that employers search for when looking for candidates to find out what skills are currently in demand.[3] Taking the number-one slot on the 2019 soft skills list was creativity: the ability to solve problems and think outside the box.

Creativity is about bringing fresh, and sometimes unorthodox, ideas to the table. This helps companies to innovate, and companies that do not innovate will not survive very long.

How do you showcase your creative thinking skills? The golden rule is to participate.

Be brave and share your ideas during group brainstorming sessions. Volunteer to run a society, networking event or recruitment drive. Ask “what if” questions: “What if we add this information to the client welcome pack?” “What if we eliminate step 3 from the process?”

These activities demonstrate that you’re prepared to go beyond “business as usual” towards creative problem solving—an ability that will serve you every day, all throughout your career.

You can learn to unleash your creativity power:

What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

Final Thoughts

The good news? Every item on this soft skills list can be learned. Although you may feel lacking in certain areas, taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to focus in on the areas that you’ll benefit from developing.

So take an inventory of your personality, skills, and talents. This will give you a baseline for your communication style, attitude to change, conscientiousness and more. You can then identify your weak areas and develop strategies for improving your team-building, assertiveness and conflict skills.

The better news? The effort is worth it. Developing your soft skills opens the door to a new job or a promotion, and helps you succeed once you get there.

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Featured photo credit: Rachael Gorjestani via unsplash.com

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