Looking for work can be pretty brutal. And over the last several months, millions of people have found themselves out of work through no fault of their own. As I’ve talked with friends and former coworkers confronting this reality, we’ve generally agreed that looking for work has changed over the last several years. And what might have worked in the past just isn’t going to cut it going forward
So what’s the play?
What things should we focus on?
With well over 10 million people unemployed in the US, what types of things differentiate candidates in a competitive job market?
As I’ve dug through career coach content and sat through countless webinars, I found that some of the most essential things current job seekers are advised to do sit nicely in the wheelhouse of sales pros. It only seems right to use our experience for good and help others navigate things like personal branding, cold outreach, and solution selling as part of their search. Hell, maybe this curated list could even help a sales pro or two in their hunt for something new in 2021.
The best sales teams are obsessed with right-fit customers. They work with clarity to qualify prospects fast and let the others go. Situations like looking for work are opportunities for individuals to find similar clarity. Some thoughtful reflection can help provide a foundation for what comes next. In this case, understanding the right-fit in one’s search for a new job.
Some questions to ask are:
- Do you want to stay on the same career path? If so, with what type of company? If not, where are your interests?
- What types of things have you enjoyed the most about the work you’ve done? What things did you avoid doing? What opportunities are there to do more of what you enjoy?
- What are your strengths? How do they affect your career options? Is it time to use those strengths for something new?
- Is it time to go all-in on your side hustle? Or start a consulting business?
Once someone understands where they want to go, they need to make sure they’re positioned to be successful. When confronted with the current job market, several people I know opted to go back to school or get certifications applicable to what they want to do next. Right-fit reflection is about understanding what is important and determining a path forward.
NOTE: A great book to help figure this stuff out is Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.
We all know that potential employers (or customers) will look us up on LinkedIn. Some might even do a quick Google search. And most career-focused individuals aren’t indifferent about what others might find. But many of us in sales know enough about psychology and the power of first impressions to take it a step further and build a personal brand. For beginners, the concept is probably less about skilled branding and more about delivering a cohesive message about their professional strengths. Here are a few quick suggestions:
- Be Intentional About Content - Anything that is public or semi-private should be reviewed. There shouldn’t be all-caps rants or trashy retweets just waiting to be unearthed. If our name is on it, somebody will see it and draw conclusions. This seems obvious, but as a hiring manager, I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous stuff.
- Be Consistent Across Platforms - Profile pictures and custom URLs should be thoughtfully chosen and identical across all platforms (LinkedIn, Glassdoor, etc.). Any links should point to the correct/current profiles on other sites. Things like this are proof of a person’s attention to detail and show they understand the importance of first impressions.
- The LinkedIn Profile - There is a ton of great content about optimizing LinkedIn profiles, so I’ll be brief. People should start with areas like their ‘headline’ and ‘about’ section, ensuring they accurately reflect strengths as they relate to the role they’re looking to land. If changing careers, this real-estate shouldn’t be filled with things that don’t apply to where they’re headed! Also, can we all please write in the first person?
- Show Proof – Job seekers need to find ways to showcase their work. Encourage others to start a blog, put together an online portfolio, or write articles about their area of expertise on LinkedIn. If writing isn’t their thing, they might consider creating slide decks or putting together video content. They could engage with podcast creators and look to be featured as a guest. When we are good at what we do, we should aim to let the work speak for itself.
NOTE: For next-level personal branding ideas, consider digging into the content of Justin Welsh.
I’ve heard many-a-salespeople say, “Your network is your net worth.” But when people find themselves working alongside others they enjoy being around, it’s easy to lose touch with former classmates, coworkers, or customers. The data is clear on this, though; nearly all of the best job opportunities come as a direct result of a person’s network. And now, with a clear direction and a cohesive online presence, it’s time to start replanting seeds to help that network grow.
It’s important to understand that the goal is a genuine connection, not manipulation. Encourage people to build on current relationships first, then work backward to rebuild those dormant connections. Things like LinkedIn endorsements, recommendations, and thoughtful content creation can go a long way. But since some people spend very little time on platforms like LinkedIn, it might be necessary to seek them out through multiple channels when trying to reconnect. Another meaningful way to help others in their search is to make warm introductions, leveraging your network when it makes sense.
Building new relationships is also well worth the effort. The pandemic has sparked the growth of virtual events and online communities (like RevGenius) in a major way. Encourage others to join in, participate, and build new connections with people who share career interests. Over time and with intentional effort, an engaged network will present more right-fit opportunities than any job board.
Targeting & Execution
For anyone with outbound sales experience, this part might seem natural. To others, it likely turns the un-fun into a torturous exercise. Encourage them to start by searching for and committing to companies they feel could be the ideal place to land. We can help them research leadership teams or find (and engage with) LinkedIn content created by company employees. Is the company publicly traded? If so, listen to earnings calls. Are they a startup that just secured funding for growth? Awesome! Learning about companies, what is important to them, or what their future might look like will prove invaluable during the interview process.
Job seekers should apply for positions that align with their goals, making sure to adjust their resume and cover letter with each position. Applying online means learning about applicant tracking systems (ATS) without getting annoyed, knowing that software prescreens everyone. This also means not applying for countless jobs every week; the spray-and-pray approach doesn’t work. Searching for and following-up with hiring managers several times might seem hard to many people, but sales pros know the power of follow-up. For anyone positioning for unposted roles, help them with cold outreach and sales dev methodologies to engage with potential hiring managers. Some job-seekers might even consider putting together what Austin Belcak refers to as a Value Validation Project.
Interviewing is another place where sales principles thrive. Help others sell themselves and establish an elevator pitch style answer to the inevitable “tell me about yourself” moment that kicks off most interviews. Discuss the power of probing questions and finding ways to read between the lines. Interviewees need to understand what is important to the hiring manager, similar to a discovery call. Encourage them to learn about the team, the role, or current challenges throughout the conversation. Lastly, it’s important to establish credibility and explain how their skill set will fill gaps, solve problems, and deliver against the hiring manager’s needs.
Above all else, interviewees need to be prepared and authentic. As part of the preparation, don’t underestimate the power we have in remote/video interviews. I mean, there is a certain freedom in interviewing without pants on. But seriously, check out these tips.
Rejection is an inevitable part of looking for work. And Nobody knows the feeling of rejection, quite like salespeople. We also know that anything that matters takes effort and patience. I’d argue that having a meaningful connection with what we do for a living matters. Helping people throughout their search will take time. Even after building a foundation, landing the right role could take months. It might be helpful to remind them:
You will get ghosted.
You will get rushed through an awkward phone-screen.
You will feel rejected.
You will have an interview that sucks.
You will have moments of disappointment.
You will feel as though you missed the perfect opportunity.
You will get automated emails telling you they are pursuing other candidates.
You will question if you’re doing this right.
We know that all of this is normal. Perspective is everything; these are learning opportunities. It’s easy for any job seeker to forget that challenges are inevitable and should be leveraged for growth. Some days will be better than others, but helping people on their journey is important stuff.
The climate for finding work has changed. Especially for those who built their career with a single company and found themselves looking for work for the first time in years. The most intriguing opportunities easily get hundreds of qualified applicants, and the old resume-centered approach doesn’t work anymore. Even a good resume outlining a track record of success might never be seen by anyone on the hiring team.
The stakes are high, and companies are seeking out people who have been able to differentiate themselves. As sales professionals, we understand so many aspects of what it takes to succeed in the new job search. And since we know that what used to work is less effective now, I encourage the community to help friends and former coworkers in their 2021 search for meaningful work.