Part of what makes looking for work so stressful is that it's hard to know what you're doing right. The feedback you receive consists mostly of silence, with an occasional, "Thank you for your time." The typical response is either to rip up your resume and start from scratch or stay the course and chalk up your lack of results to bad luck and a tough job market. Neither of those approaches is likely to get you much closer to your next job. But a job search audit can.
Get a second opinion
What's involved in a job search audit? Nothing more than verbalizing your experiences and asking a friend for feedback. This act can reveal patterns that you've been too closely engaged with to notice. If possible, sit down with someone who's familiar with your industry and career. Then, review the following areas:
- Your network: For each of the last few opportunities you've pursued, describe how you found it. Was it a publicly available listing, or did you have a connection that might have given you an advantage? Have you been pursuing a range of networking avenues, online and off? What have you done lately to help members of your network with their own careers?
- Your resume and cover letter: If you've landed a lot of interviews, your resume and cover letter are doing their job. You probably do not need to invest much energy here. If, on the other hand, the phone has remained silent, review your recent application materials. To what extent have you customized your resume to match each opportunity? When a cover letter can be included, have you taken the time to draft one that concisely explains how you can benefit the employer? Have your friend go through each document line by line and point out information that is weak, unclear or unnecessary.
- Your interview performance: Have you been called in for multiple interviews without receiving an offer? If so, you may be stumbling at this stage without realizing it. Describe your recent interviews, recapping the questions you were asked and the answers you gave. What's your friend's opinion of the impression you made? You may even find it helpful to have him act the part of the hiring manager and replay portions of certain interviews.
- Your choice of positions to target: If the opportunities you've been pursuing don't match up with your skills and experience, excellence in every other facet of your job search won't matter. Are the key responsibilities of the roles you've been seeking in, or at least near, your area of expertise? Ask your friend if you seem under- or overqualified for the positions you've sought.
As you conduct your audit, don't overlook more mundane elements. For instance, how consistent is your job search? Do you work on it for a day or two and then put it aside for a while? If so, you could be losing momentum. How much time do you spend searching for employment, and how focused are you? The sheer number of hours is less important than the quality and consistency of those hours.
You're as strong as your weakest link
Identifying problem areas is one thing; working to improve them is another. If you enjoy networking, for instance, it's natural to want to spend more time on that than on revising your resume. But keep in mind that an hour spent working on a weakness is more likely to hasten the end of your search than several hours spent in your comfort zone.
Wrap up your job search audit by developing an action plan for addressing your liabilities. Be specific in the steps you'll take and the time it will take you to improve. Ask your friend to check in with you about your progress.
Conducting a job search audit isn't an exact science. In fact, you might not receive clear answers about what – if anything – you're doing wrong. Many of the elements that determine when you'll get your next offer are entirely out of your control. But taking a close look at what you've been doing can be the first step toward making your job search smarter – and shorter.