Standing out in a crowded job market

Job hunting isn’t always an easy road. It can be hard to be noticed if you’re an immigrant or a mum returning to work, if you’re looking for your first job, making a career change, or many other situations that make your search more of a challenge.

Fortunately, there are a few ways you can increase your chances of success. By learning how to stand out in a crowded market, you can build more meaningful relationships and get noticed.

Here are some tips.

1) Build great relationships with recruiters

You often have to impress a recruiter before you get noticed by a potential employer. Try to build positive relationships with recruiters so they put you forward for great jobs.

Recruiters are busy people and may take some time to get back to you. Don’t be afraid to follow up, but take care not to irritate them; be friendly and polite whether communicating via phone, email, or in person.

2) Apply for jobs that match your skills

When you’re keen to get noticed, it can be tempting to send out hundreds of CVs every month and apply for every job in your industry but this approach can overwhelm recruiters and be a waste of your and their time.

Instead, be selective. Apply for jobs where your skills and strengths can shine. You’re more likely to stand out if you’re a good fit for the role advertised.

3) Reflect and improve

Take a fresh look at your CV, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. Make sure these documents have evolved with your job search and experience.

For more tips on improving your CV, check out my article ‘What does your CV say about you?’

4) Be specific about what you want

Figure out what type of job you want and tell everyone in your network: “I’m looking for X position with X type of company”. The more specific you are, the easier people will find it to help you (including recruiters).

5) Leverage your LinkedIn profile

Are you using your LinkedIn profile to your full advantage? Review your profile to ensure it gives just enough information to pique interest without being overwhelming.

You can also use LinkedIn to share blog posts and articles, interact with former colleagues, and grow your network.

Many employers post jobs on LinkedIn – just make sure you follow their instructions if you want to apply. Never comment with “check my profile” and leave it at that; it’s likely that the recruiter or employer is much too busy to check out individual profiles. It’s much better if you make contact in the way they’ve asked, or submit a tailored application.

For more advice for upping your LinkedIn game, check out my post “Does your LinkedIn profile reflect your awesomeness?”

6) Take care of your best asset: you!

It’s demoralising when you get rejected or don’t even hear back from employers. Persevere, but also take care of yourself. Remind yourself that you’re building resilience and that you’ve done hard things before and you can do them again. And when you’re feeling blue, check in with someone who will be your champion and keep you clear-headed and motivated.

7) Seek career advice

People come to me for career advice when a traditional job search isn’t working for them, when they don’t quite “fit”. My clients include new immigrants, mothers returning to work, people changing career direction, and graduates looking for their first role. They all say how tough it is to be rejected or ignored over and over again.

I’m inspired by how they keep trying, how they adapt and work at it, and how they don’t give up hope. And then there’s the moment when they tell me how they have an offer – that someone has finally seen their value and wants to hire them. It’s the best. Remember the Fresh Prince and how Carlton does the happy dance? That’s how I feel when one of my clients gets a nice role!

And finally, for your viewing pleasure, here’s Carlton doing the happy dance 🙂

Talking about your value at work

Talking about yourself at work isn’t easy, especially if you’re from a culture where this might be perceived as boasting, arrogant or self-involved. I’m looking at you, New Zealand!

Long ago, I heard the comedian Oscar Kightley tell a joke that perfectly captures New Zealand’s “tall poppy” culture. Apologies to Oscar if I mess up his joke but here goes…

“A distinguished professor is at a ceremony to accept an award for creating a pill that cures not only the common cold but all major diseases. In his speech he talks about his long career and the hard work he put in and he says how proud he is to have made so many people healthy and happy. The audience erupts in applause. A Kiwi turns to the guy next to him and says, ‘He’s a bit up himself, ay!'”

We laugh at the exaggerated story because it pokes fun at our tendency to expect people to be humble even when it’s perfectly justified for them to talk about their achievements. And we know that we don’t want to be the person seen as boastful or with an inflated sense of self-importance. It feels uncomfortable talking about our achievements and avoid it so that we don’t feel the sting of other people’s judgement.

But should this stop you from speaking up? You might think that if someone wants to know about you, they’ll ask. In reality, most people are probably too busy worrying about themselves to notice if you have done something amazing!

It’s up to you to share your story.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to promote and sell yourself, to grow and progress, to make your contribution.

You have value to offer your team, your employers, and your wider community. 

Stop for a second and think of your value – your talents and skills and contribution.

The gremlins that want you to stop you speaking up are strong, but you can outwit them. Here are a few ways to identify and celebrate your value:

  • Reflect on past achievements – big and small
  • Re-read references, testimonials and positive feedback
  • Make a list of everything you do that helps others
  • Think of the technical skills you’ve learnt, and the personal attributes and experience you bring to your team, your employer and the wider community

Your value is your currency. It buys you trust, respect, and confidence.

Being shy about your value won’t help you land that new opportunity, dream job or exciting promotion. If you want to be trusted with new responsibilities, you need to be able to share your strengths.

If you don’t speak up, someone else might. They might get that promotion or opportunity – simply because they were willing to speak about themselves. Let people know that you’re keen and willing, or you could risk being overlooked.

Tips for talking about yourself with clarity and confidence

  • If you’re anxious about appearing conceited or arrogant, this is a good sign that you’re not. The fact you don’t want to be seen as selfish shows you’re considering other people’s feelings and contribution.
  • Before speaking, ask yourself: “What’s my intent?” If you intend to make other people feel inferior or envious, then you are being arrogant.
  • Get evidence. Find someone who will be honest with you and ask them if you’re coming across as conceited. And also ask if they think you’re doing enough to let people know what you have to offer.
  • Check your facts. Don’t speak from opinion; be specific. Use facts and figures to draw attention to ways you’ve made a tangible difference.
  • If you don’t say something, people may not know. Talking about yourself is like advertising. If you have a wonderful product but people can only find out about it by chance, you won’t make many sales.
  • Be clear. Give other people the right words to use to advocate for you.
  • Be honest. You know what it’s like to listen to someone downplay their achievements. False modesty is irritating so own your worth.
  • Acknowledge other people in your team. Does this achievement only belong to you or were there people who helped you along the way?
  • Share your journey. Say why you’re proud. Most things that make us feel valued have required hard work. So talk about the challenges you overcame to get to where you are today. It’s the difference between: “I said I would win top salesperson and I did,” and “Getting to this point has been a goal of mine and even though it’s taken a lot of time and hard work I’m proud that I persevered.”
  • Describe your accomplishments in your boss’s words. Saying “the Delivery Manager said my suggestions made a big improvement,” comes across better than “I always come up with the best ideas”.
  • Boast! Sometimes we don’t know how something feels unless we actually do it, so try a full on bragging session – to someone you know, or to yourself. Say everything out loud, in the most arrogant way you can. Then reflect. How did that make you feel and how was it different to clearly and honestly stating your achievements? Taking an extreme view can help you find the right balance.

As with everything, talking about your value gets easier with practice. Over time, the voice in your head that says “what might people think of me?” will be replaced with “what do people need to know about me?”.

Don’t leave it to chance. If you have skills and strengths to offer, then you owe it to yourself (and others!) to share your story.

Some thoughts on “staying sharp”

The 7th habit in Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is ‘Sharpen the Saw’. It’s my favourite chapter in the book.

Sharpen the Saw means “preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.”

When life gets busy, self-development and self-care are often the first things to be neglected. But if you’re too busy to look after yourself, then eventually your saw is going to get blunt. Stephen suggests making time to sharpen your saw across the four main areas of your life:

  • Physical
  • Social/Emotional
  • Mental
  • Spiritual

I’d like to add a 5th area to this list: Work. In the workplace, feeling ‘blunt’ might mean you aren’t learning or finding opportunities to grow. Or perhaps you’re feeling overworked, under pressure or dissatisfied. Some employers will give you opportunities to sharpen the saw. They might send you on a training course or provide you with a coach or mentor or give you opportunities to develop. But I’d suggest coming up with your own techniques for staying sharp. Here are some ideas:

  • Carve out time for regular learning. For example, ask your colleagues to teach you a new skill or teach yourself online.
  • Attend a MeetUp or networking event. It’s amazing how much you can learn, both from expert speakers and from others in your field of work.
  • Try something new. To stretch your skills you need to try things that you don’t already know how to do.
  • Take care of yourself outside of work, so you can come into the office feeling enthusiastic and ready to learn.

The last point – taking care of yourself outside of work – is often the hardest part. It can be tough to switch off after hours and get the rest your body and mind needs. One thing I’ve found helpful is to find a hobby that’s good at distracting you. I find dance classes are good for me because they require my full concentration – and they’re fun! My husband enjoys making furniture, which is a far cry from his highly technical job as an engineer. (On that note, he’s acutely aware of the benefits of sharp saws – a good blade is safer, it requires less effort to saw, and it’s not going to damage the wood like a dull blade might).

For you, taking care of yourself may mean playing sport, meditation, art, reading, being outdoors or spending time with friends and family. If your job involves working on a computer for much of the day, maybe find something that doesn’t involve a screen. Your spare time belongs to you. It’s not selfish to spend it doing the things you truly enjoy – it’s necessary, so you don’t get blunt. As Stephen Covey says:

“Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other  six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you.”

This week, I am going to stay sharp by attending a MeetUp to learn new technical skills, and by taking time out to swim at my favourite beach. What about you?