Saturday, March 28, 2009

Seven Strategies for a Successful Job Search

In these times of economic difficulties, budget cuts and job loss, I hear daily from paralegals and others who certainly did not deserve to lose their jobs but who nonetheless find themselves updating their resumes and hoping for a new position before their unemployment benefits end.

When they come to me for advice, the first thing I tell them is that they DO have a job: they’re now self-employed and their job is finding a job. They have to treat this new job as though it is their own business and go to work every day. This is serious hard work!

Here are seven strategies for making your new business of job hunting a success:
1. Know Your Market. Do some research to determine what employers are looking for. You should craft your resume and your job search to be the perfect candidate for those jobs. Also, remember that many jobs are never advertised, but exist in the minds of the partners or Human Resources Director. If they view you as the perfect candidate for that position, they may hire you without ever interviewing any other candidates.
2. Do an inventory. Make a detailed list of your skills, experience, accomplishments, interests, goals and values. What are your strengths and where will they fit? You will need to be able to communicate, both verbally and in writing, how you are the unique and perfect candidate for a job. Your inventory should also serve as a road map to other areas where your skills and experience would transfer. Also, know your salary expectations and be prepared to have that discussion. Communicate this in a such a way that the value you would bring to the position is commensurate with that salary level. Know also that you may have to get real about what your next job will pay. It may be more important to get your foot in the door and have those all-important benefits.
3. Develop a Plan. Begin with a clear, concise resume and a concise cover letter that states how your qualifications match job requirements. Both your resume and cover letter should be designed to catch the potential employer’s attention. Identify potential employers and start sending those resumes, whether they are advertising open positions or not. Consider using an appropriate employment agency but sure you understand what the agency will do for you and if there is a cost. This can be an excellent job lead resource. Also think about doing some temporary or freelance work that may result in (a) additional contacts; (b) new skills and experience; (c) additional income to tide you over while you’re unemployed; and (d) put you in a position to be available when a full-time job is available.
4. Get the word out. Let everyone you can think of know that you are looking for employment. That includes friends, colleagues, neighbors, members of your professional association, former professors and classmates. It does not matter if they are located right in your hometown or living in Timbuktu, let them know. This network is an important piece of your job search plan. There is always someone out there who knows someone who knows someone else who might help you.
5. Boost your network. Sign up for job search newsletters and e-mail blasts. Post on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Take the time to actively participate in Internet discussion boards and forums. Done the right way, social networking can be priceless job search tool. Just remember that everything you post is public in some way and that, once on the Internet, it does not go away. These sites are used by people who are hiring to screen potential job candidates. You will want your posts to say positive things about you.
6. Do not wait for opportunity to knock on your door. This most likely will not happen. Instead, make your own opportunities by being persistent, assertive and proactive. As intimidating as it may be, make those cold calls to potential employers. This is important for two reasons: first, you need to beat your competition to the draw; and second, it demonstrates to the potential employers that you are serious.
7. Keep track of your progress. Maintain detailed records of the jobs you have applied for. This would include communications, interviews, referrals, and any follow-up actions you take. You are building a list of valuable contacts for current and future job searches. During this process, be sure to mind your ‘P’s and Q’s’ by writing thank you notes and speaking positively about the people who have interviewed you. Remaining polite and positive is key.
The job of searching for a job is hard work. It may be the most difficult job you have ever had and it is essential that you maintain a positive attitude. If you take steps to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the job-hunting crowd by developing some effective strategies and defining what you want and need, you will be on your way to losing your current job-hunting job (hurray!!!) and landing that full-time position.
© 2009 Vicki Voisin, Inc.
Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, "The Paralegal Mentor", delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by setting goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a bi-weekly ezine titled Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence. More information is available at


The Goodwill Fangirl said...

Vicki, this is excellent and timely advice, to treat your job search as a full-time job. Candidates should check Criagslist and increasingly, Twitter, frequently, and also remember that may jobs in the corporate, insurance and banking sectors require paralegal experience but aren't necessarily labeled "paralegal" or "legal assistant". If you have legal staffing agencies in your area, schedule an interview and leave a resume (for most jobs, employers pay the placement fee) and don't rule out temporary work as a way to get your foot in the door and keep income coming in.

Margaret Lucas Agius said...

As you know, I was laid off in December. Your advice is timely and quite welcome. I absolutely agree that my job search is a full-time job! A few other observations and questions from the trenches:
(1) I've had little success with legal staffing agencies, both currently and historically. Only one recruiter (out of about a half dozen) has ever gotten me interviews (years ago), and she no longer does placement. Quite often, multiple agencies have the same available opportunities (i.e. Kelly Law Registry, Robert Half Legal, Special Counsel, and Lumen Legal).
(2) I'd like some specific advice on cold-calling and sending resumes to prospective employers that have not advertised open positions. Do I "just do it" or is there a method to the madness? I can well imagine that doing it badly or incorrectly does more harm than good, and may sabotage chances when there really is a job opening. Help?!?
(3) Keeping track of progress is absolutely crucial for several reasons. Most states have a requirement that unemployment recipients keep track of work search efforts. Michigan:
"[R]ecord each employer you contacted during each week you are claiming unemployment benefits. Although this information is not requested when claiming each week, your claim may be audited and you may be asked at any time to provide a detailed record of your work search efforts. If you cannot provide this information, you may be penalized and have to pay back the benefits as well as damages of double or four times the amount received through fraud."
I use Excel to keep track of everything, with a separate worksheet to record deductible expenses (mileage, parking, résumé paper, ink cartridges, etc.) In addition, one legal staffing agency specifically asked me with what other agencies I'm registered, and to which prospective employers I'd already sent my resume. I didn't have that information with me at the time, but was able to send it by email very shortly thereafter.
Thanks again for all of your support and advice!