Four Glaring Signs Your Job Search Is Not Working and 19 Ways to Improve It

Ignoring these warning signs will result in painful, protracted job searches.

Too often, job seekers ignore the warning signs indicating that their search tactics aren't getting them anywhere. Ignorance is bliss, right? Wrong. The longer you wait to take corrective action, the longer you'll be unemployed or stuck in a job you hate. So fess up to the fact that your job search is failing and commit yourself to starting fresh. By establishing a defined job search strategy and spending more time networking, you'll stop spinning your wheels and you'll come much closer to landing your dream job much faster. It'll be a better use of your time and also more fun.

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How Do You Find Your Next Job?

The Hiring Manager Interviews

Sign 1: You spend your time at your computer searching job sites.

1. Mine your network for opportunities. More than 70 percent of jobs filled last year were filled through networking, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Be sure everyone you know is aware that you are looking for a new job and understands the position you're seeking so they are better able to help you. Ask your networking contacts for referrals. (For more information on networking, see Effective Networking Is Easier Than You Think and Networking Tips for Shy People.)

2. Use your alumni database to identify contacts at the companies on your target list. Talk to those people about the culture of the company and its hiring process.

3. Join professional associations to make new contacts and learn about job opportunities. Seek out people who are doing work that interests you or those who work in companies you are targeting.

Sign 2: You apply for whatever catches your eye.

1. You need a defined job search strategy. Take the time to write down what you want to achieve: the position you're seeking, the skills required for the position, the industry you're targeting and ideal locations. Give some thought to the companies that are most likely to offer the work you want and that best fit your style. See if you know anyone in those companies. If not, ask people in your network. Also list the skills you possess that qualify you for the position you're seeking and note if there is a discrepancy between the expertise you have and the experience you need. Taking the time to create this documented job search strategy will help you focus and direct your efforts. You can't get where you want to be without a plan.

2. Focus your energies on specific jobs you are interested in, for which you are qualified and with companies you want to join. Applying for jobs willy-nilly is a waste of time.

3. Make sure you're being realistic. Don't apply to positions for which you're not truly qualified. Be honest with yourself about your qualifications and your past experience. If you do not qualify today for the job of your dreams, identify the skills you need to develop and create a plan to address those needs.

Sign 3: You send out a lot of résumés but don't get called for interviews.

Sign 3: You send out a lot of résumés but don't get called for interviews.

1. Make sure you tailor your résumé and cover letter to each position you apply for. Form letters do not put your best foot forward. You need to give hiring managers and recruiters a reason to notice you and call you up for an interview amid all the other candidates. You do that by customizing your résumé and cover letter according to the company and position for which you're applying. Your résumé and cover letter have to clearly articulate why you're the best possible candidate for the position and company. The two documents must also focus on the employer's needs and clearly state your capabilities in the context of those needs. Focus on what you can do for them. Leverage what you have learned about the organization from your networking contacts. It takes time to write individual cover letters and résumés for each position, but it's much more effective.

2. Instead of focusing your résumé on the responsibilities you've held in each job, emphasize your unique accomplishments in each position. Every bullet point should start with an action verb, and you should include quantitative measurements where possible (e.g., increased sales by 75 percent, reduced costs by 20 percent, improved customer satisfaction by 10 percent, etc.).

3. Include appropriate keywords in your résumé and cover letter. Many recruiters use software to scan for keywords. It makes finding appropriate résumés amid the virtual piles of electronic submissions easier. To identify appropriate keywords, look at the job description and responsibilities in the job ad for words that appear over and over. Those are the keywords you should include in your résumé and cover letter.

4. Get feedback on your résumé and cover letter from friends, colleagues (when appropriate) and recruiters. Make appropriate edits.

5. Proofread your résumé and cover letter carefully. Better yet, have someone else proofread it for you. Typos can quickly eliminate you from consideration. Recruiters will automatically reject letters with another company's name or a different job title. (For more résumé tips and trick see, Seven Ways to Ensure Your Résumé Doesn't End Up in a Recruiter's Trash.)

Sign 4: You manage to land first interviews but never get called back for follow-up interviews, let alone get any offers.

1. Do mock interviews with anyone who can give you feedback on your presentation, whether they be friends, family or mentors. You may be coming off as desperate or cocky with employers, both of which are turnoffs. Address anything they identify as problematic.

2. Identify the types of questions with which you struggle and practice responses until you are comfortable answering them.

3. Ensure that you are clearly differentiating yourself. Think about what makes you uniquely qualified for this position and how you can address the employer's needs, and come up with a succinct way to deliver that information. If you're having trouble answering those questions, it might help to ask yourself why you want the job with that employer. You need to make it clear to the interviewer how your experience is a perfect match for the employer's needs.

4. Demonstrate your interest in and enthusiasm for the position and the company during the interview. This doesn't mean you should act like a cheerleader. You show your interest by listening attentively and asking informed questions about the company and the job. You show your enthusiasm by telling the interviewer what excites you about the opportunity.

5. Research the company. Know the names of the executive leadership and the company's competitors. Memorize the company's key financials and understand its challenges. Interviewers want to know you know something about their company. They like candidates who are well prepared. Also, when your answers to their questions show you've done your homework and have thoroughly researched the company, you send a clear message to the interviewers that you're very interested in the position, and they take notice.

6. Ask questions. Interviewers like candidates who pose smart questions. Based on your research or discussions with networking contacts, ask about recent press releases, the company's goals for the year ahead and the culture of the organization. Ask questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the company, your desire to learn more, and your interest in making sure there's a good fit between you and the employer. (For more advice on how to ace interviews, check out the series The Hiring Manager Interviews.)

7. Send timely thank-you notes to each interviewer, reinforcing your interest in the position. This does make a difference to many employers. Some will not consider a candidate who fails to send a thank-you. Send an e-mail thank you the same day as the interview and a handwritten note within 24 hours. Even if you don't get the job, you will be remembered for future opportunities.

8. Don't call the employer daily to ask about the status of your candidacy. Before the end of the interview, ask about next steps. If they expect to get back to you within a week, do not call until that week has passed. Then, call to check in and reinforce your interest. If you still get no response, call again. Do not stalk employers or they will quickly lose interest.

Lynne Sarikas is the director of the MBA career center at Northeastern University's College of Business Administration.

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