5 successful ways to be proactive in your job search

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Some job seekers tell me they turn on their computer every day to log on to Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder, Indeed, and other job boards. They spend many hours a day applying for posted jobs, sending as many as 20 cookie-cutter résumés out a week, anticipating a call from a recruiter or Human Resources.

And they wait.

To these job seekers I point out the futility of a job search like this, explaining that if they want faster results, they have to be more proactive. I tell them this in my Career Networking workshop.

First I talk about the Hidden Job Market (HJM) which is a concept they understand, but I’m not sure they accept. When I tell them connecting with others is the best approach to penetrating the HJM, I can hear them thinking how difficult it will be to get outside their comfort zone, to get away from their computer.

The message I deliver is that they have to be proactive, not reactive. They have to take control of their job search, not let it control them. Here are five ways you can be proactive in your job search:

Approach letters. These documents are sent to companies of interest. Here’s the kicker: no job has been advertised. (Advertised jobs represent only 20%-30% of the labor market.) You’re not reacting to an advertisement; rather you’re sending them unannounced.

Approach Letters are ideal if you prefer writing more than using the phone. Introverts may favor this way of contacting an employer. Whereas, extraverts may prefer simply picking up the phone.

The goal is to get networking meeting or better yet, chance upon a possible opening that hasn’t been advertised. You must describe your job-related skills and experience and show the employer that you’ve done research on the company to boost the employer’s ego.

Good ole’ fashion networking. Normally we think of networking as strictly attending organized meetings where other job seekers go, doing their best not to seem desperate. (I’ll admit that this type of networking is unsettling, although necessary.)

The kind of networking I’m referring to is the kind that involves reaching out to anyone who knows a hiring manager.

Most of the people who contact me after they’ve secured a job tell me that their success was due to knowing someone at the company or organization. You must network wherever you go.

Network at your kid’s or grandchildren’s basketball games, at the salon, while taking workshops, at family gatherings (see Any Time is Time to Network)—basically everywhere.

Volunteering as a way to find work. This method of being proactive works. Granted it is tough to work for free, volunteering offers great benefits. The first of which is it’s a great way to network. Think about it; you’re in a great environment to discover opportunities from the people with whom you’re volunteering.

Let’s say you’re volunteering with an organization that deals with vendors, partners, and customers. They’re all great people to gather advice and information. You are ALWAYS keeping your eyes open for opportunities.

Another benefit of volunteering is enhancing the skills you have, or learning new ones, to be more marketable. If you lack certain software, such as PeopleSoft, seek organizations that use this software or would like to implement it. Who knows; you may prove to be so valuable that you develop a role in their finance department.

Finally, volunteering is a great source of fodder for you résumé. I tell my clients that if their volunteer experience is extensive, they should include it on this document. Just write “Volunteer Experiend” in parenthesis. 

LinkedIn and other social media outlets. I recently received an In-mail from someone who is currently working but is not enjoying her experience. I’ll keep my ears open for the type of position she’s looking for because she asked me to.

LinkedIn members who know the potential of this  professional online networking tool  reach out to other LI members for information and contact leads. Practice proper etiquette when reaching out to your connections. In other words, don’t request an introduction to someone the very first time you communicate with a new connection.

Another one of my job seekers is doing everything possible to conduct a proper proactive job search. He updates me on his job search and sends me job leads for me to post on our career center’s LinkedIn group. I’ve got a good feeling about this guy. He’s being very proactive by using LinkedIn and his vast personal network of professionals.

Follow Up. Allow me to suggest a must-read book called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I think this guy gets more publicity from me than any author I’ve read. The reason I recommend this book is because none of these three proactive approaches are useful unless you follow up on your efforts.

Never Eat Alone teaches you how to network in every situation and then how to keep your network alive by following up with everyone. I mean everyone. Send an approach letter, then follow up with the people to whom you’ve sent it. Network face-to-face, then follow up. Connect with someone on LinkedIn…you guessed it, then follow up.

Of course you need to follow up after an interview. Many employers complain that candidates don’t send a follow-up note, and some candidates are eliminated because of this. So take the time to write a brief follow-up note. It’s well worth the time.


Being proactive sure beats the hell out of only reacting to jobs that have been advertised and visible to hundreds, if not thousands of other job seekers. It gives you a sense of accomplishment and yields more results than exclusively participating in the visible job market. Being proactive makes you believe that the job search will finally come to a halt, that the job search is in your hands.

Photo: Flickr, EasyBranches

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