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Let’s face it – being unemployed is a horrible state of affairs.
Lack of a predictable income is only one part of the trauma of unemployment. If you have a family, you’re responsible for the quality of their lives along with yours. Even if you’re among the lucky few who have saved enough money to take you through the next few months, you will soon begin to hear curious questions from friends and family – have you not found a job yet? The unsaid part of the question is, of course, ‘are you that stupid or plain lazy? Surely there is something available’. You spend weeks and months looking online and doing all those things the experts advise you to do, but to no avail. Depression sets in and you loathe in self-pity. Slowly you lower your expectations of salary and role, and then wait again…
I’m not a career counselor, and my intent is not to dole out advice like one. I’m a regular corporate girl who has recently taken the unemployment train and managed to get off at an expat station, albeit with a few bumps and bruises! I left a perfectly good job at a Big 4 accounting company to take care of a family member who needed my care. After he got better (thank God!), I boarded the dreaded unemployment train and stayed on it for about 6 months until I found something worth the wait.
This post is to share with you some tips that have worked for me and some things I could have done better. Everyone’s life journey is different and while all these tips may not be practical for you, I hope you find something useful as you search for that elusive new job.
Tip #1: Be crystal clear what kind of job you want
Do not lower your expectations no matter what any ‘well-meaning’ person tells you.
Let me explain. You need to be crystal clear on the kind of skills you want to apply in your new job, and the level at which you need to apply them. For example, if you’re into data analytics, you probably need a job that lets you use Tableau software at an advanced level. List down the skills you’re looking to demonstrate to your potential employer and match them with your current skill level to ensure that your expectations are realistic. If you have location constraints, think them through so that you can be ready when an employer asks about it. Your options increase exponentially if you’re willing to relocate internationally.
One practice that helped me is periodically reviewing job descriptions of vacancies that were similar to my requirements. I could see what skills were sought by employers and assess whether I matched up to their expectations. I also used some of their keywords to tailor my resume.
You may have friends or neighbours who advise you that you’re aiming too high when the market is too dull. Don’t let them get to you – there is plenty of research that suggests that there is always a demand for skilled professionals in every domain. Hear them out, smile politely and ignore their advice.
Tip#2: Make a stellar skills-based resume
Skills, skills, skills. Job titles may change but skills stay the same. Identify the skills that helped you accomplish the most in your career so far. Rather than chronologically list your job responsibilities, it may be a good idea to think about the skills you demonstrated in each area and what you accomplished as a result of having those skills. Is it project management? Learning needs analysis? Process re-engineering? Once you have this down pat, you can determine which of these skills are directly transferable to your target position. Align these skills on your resume with those that employers are seeking (tip #1). Check and double-check to ensure that your resume is buzzing with relevant keywords. These are the terms employers use to identify resumes that are aligned to their requirements. If your writing skills are dismal, hire a professional.
How do you know if your resume is good enough? Well, you never really know for sure but here is what I did. I put myself in the shoes of a recruiter and asked myself: if I read this resume for 30 seconds, would I want to interview me?
Tip #3: Build a strong online presence, one day at a time.
Most of today’s job search is done online. Use your time wisely – rather than depositing your CV in online blackholes, identify real people in your target company and get them to refer you internally. Your CV has a much better chance of being opened and reviewed this way. Plus, employees who refer you often get a referral bonus if you are selected, so there is something in it for them. Along the same lines, use LinkedIn to your advantage. Find employees in your target company, businesses around the world that may be looking for people with your skills or even volunteer opportunities in your area. This is how Bryan and I connected for this guest post!
By the way, all online recruitment sites are not time-wasters (far from it). Take the time to identify credible websites that recruiters in your area use. For example in the GCC area, bayt.com and gulftalent.com are viewed as top talent sources. Ensure that you have an updated profile on such sites, check for new job postings every week and apply frequently.
If you’re reading this on LinkedIn, you probably already know this – almost everyone in the world from Bill Gates and Warren Buffet all the way to your gym instructor is on LinkedIn. Keep your profile up to date and connect with the people who could make a difference to your career.
Tip #4: Write and speak with intent, whenever and wherever you can.
All of us are not born writers or speakers, but both these skills can be developed with some practice. Take one of the many free writing courses available online. Begin to write articles related to your area of expertise and post them online on LinkedIn or your own blog. Contact magazine publishers related to your profession through LinkedIn, and ask if they accept articles (most of them are eager for some good quality writing!). Browse online to see what your peers are saying and write about your own point of view. With a platform as global as LinkedIn, you might be impressing your next employer with your blog post, who knows!
If you have solid writing skills already, great! Start using them commercially by ghostwriting, for example. Business leaders often look for ghostwriters who can take their draft content and turn it into something engaging and informative. Spread the word among your networks and search LinkedIn to see who may be looking for such services. This was my side project as I continued to search for employment. Subject matter knowledge + some discipline = a good learning and earning opportunity.
As for speaking, start small and local. Nobody became a TED speaker in a day! Contact schools or community colleges in your area to see if they have a platform for you. Many of these organizations are looking for professionals to speak with their students to inspire them. Accept such invitations and speak about a topic related to your area of expertise. Use every opportunity to sharpen your skills. Whenever possible, record your talk and post it online for a wider audience.
When I got an invitation from the Vellore Institute of Technology (an engineering school in India), I accepted more out of boredom with my routine than from a genuine interest to inspire students. However, the ambitious students there engaged me in a conversation so genuine that I ended up sharing a lot more than I intended to, and learnt more from them than they did from me.
Every time you are quoted, published or invited to speak, add that to your CV and online profile.
Tip #5: Use crowdsourcing sites
Use crowdsourcing sites to see where you can contribute (and make some cash!)
There are many crowdsourcng sites online, but Innocentive has been a blessing for me. It’s a crowdsourcing site where companies routinely post challenges for product design, process improvements, expansion strategies and even mathematical discoveries. The cool thing is that the challenges are open to anyone around the world irrespective of age, educational background or current employment status (they only ask for name and email ID). What is cooler, of course, is that they all have cash awards of varying amounts depending on the complexity of the problem to be solved. I browsed the site every month looking for any challenges that caught my interest. Personally, I’m a bit of a health freak and so when I saw a challenge about motivating an entire state in the US to become healthier, I submitted my solution. I won! Apart from the ego-boost of winning a global challenge, I got a winner page allocated to me on their site, access to other winners and much-needed tax-free income. Sweet!
It took me six long months to find my next position and my journey was not without its low moments. This stint burst my bubble about how employable I was. Some days, I wallowed in self-pity and wondered why the Gods were against me. Other times, I just wanted to curl up in bed and sleep the entire day. When I interviewed and got rejected a few times, that added fuel to the fire. When I look back now, I can say that those six months taught me some hard lessons that I would never have learnt otherwise.
There were two things that kept me going: my faith in God and the support of my mother. If it were not for these two, I would not be as confident as I am today about the fact that anyone can find a job if they search the right way. So, keep the faith and no matter how frustrated you feel, do not stop loving the few people who genuinely care about your wellbeing.
I do not mean to sound preachy and boastful, but those were the two things I absolutely did right.
I wish you the very best in your job search. If I can do it, so can you.
About the Author:
Is a multifaceted professional with 13 years of experience across corporate learning and business strategy. She is a speaker and writer who always seeks new ways to make learning more accessible and practical for adults and children. She has worked in a variety of roles across Tata Consultancy Services Limited & Deloitte Consulting. Currently, she is an L&D specialist in Doha.
Apart from receiving performance awards at TCSL & Deloitte, Anjana has been quoted by the Chief Learning Officer magazine and Harvard Business Review. She has an MBA with Distinction from Strathclyde Business School and completed her engineering degree from NIT, Calicut. In her free time, she travels to distant lands and takes pictures of her exploits while also trying very hard not to be the worst Carnatic singer ever. She can be reached at: email@example.com