Job Search Stalled? Here Are the Resume, Interview and Networking Tips You Need to Get Back on Track

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How many times have you said, "I need a new job" and then done nothing about it? Or have you embarked on a new job search full of optimism only to have it stall out?

There's only one word to describe what's happening: Stuck.

That's right, stuck. We've all been there. So how do you get unstuck?

First up, you have to figure out how — and where — you're held up. Are you unable to start your job search? Or are you not getting any interviews or offers?

"There could be somebody who's sending in 400 applications and they could say they feel stuck, and there's somebody who's on the other end of the spectrum saying, 'I haven't sent anything in because I don't know what I want and I don't know what to do and I don't know what to write and I just feel like if I take a step it might be wrong and I'm scared to take any steps,'" said career coach Natalie Fisher.

Regardless, it's easy to get discouraged and start circling the drain of self-doubt and hopelessness.

Great news! None of that is necessary. (Or helpful, really.) There are definitely ways to get unstuck.

If you're having trouble achieving liftoff, getting your job search started, Fisher recommends asking yourself a few questions:

  • What are you avoiding?
  • What are you scared of?
  • What is really the problem?
  • What's the worst that can happen if you send that application?

"Probably … you'll be in the same situation you are now, so probably nothing big is going to happen," Fisher said. "But we don't really walk ourselves through that so we're like, 'Agh! What If I get rejected? What if I get judged? What if I have a typo on my resume and I lose the opportunity forever?'"

It seems like a lot of times we get in our own way. Maybe we are perfectionists. Or we have a fear of rejection. So we feel paralyzed and don't take any action.

If you are actively on the hunt but not getting anywhere, Gorick Ng, a Harvard career advisor and author of "The Unspoken Rules," breaks it down into three key categories where you may be stuck:

  1. Figuring out which jobs to pursue
  2. Securing an interview
  3. Getting past the interview to a job offer

"It's easy to get into a downward spiral" in your job search, Ng explains. You start feeling bad about what you're not doing, then you feel bad about feeling bad. But really, you're just stuck.

So, how do you get unstuck?

"First, you need to find a general direction. If you don't have a direction, you can't tailor your resume; you also can't speak with conviction in an interview; and you definitely can't stay motivated," Ng said. "This is why so many people spend hours aimlessly clicking 'submit' with no results to show."

If you're stuck at No. 1, unsure of what jobs to pursue, Ng said you should ask yourself these four questions:

  • "Where do I actually want to work?"
  • "What do I actually want to do?"
  • "Where do I want to be long term — and what next role would best put me on the path toward what I want to do long term?"
  • "Where do I have the best odds?"       

"A successful job search is all about navigating your way to the intersection of what you want and where you have the best odds of landing a position," Ng said.

We all have dreams when we head off to college of what we want to do. But that is such an important reality gap to bridge — figuring out how to actually land the position you want.

That comes down to a combination of where you have experience that would apply to this role, where you know someone on a team who likes you and/or who can get you an introduction to someone who is in a hiring position, Ng said.

When deciding which jobs to apply for, Ng suggests asking yourself this following set of questions — and then focusing your job search on roles based on those answers:

  • "What have I done that I'd like to do more of?"
  • "Where do I know someone?"
  • "Where can I get an introduction from someone?"

When it comes to the networking part, Ng says, work to identify those relationships and rekindle them.

If you're blasting off a whole bunch of resumes but not getting anywhere, maybe you're just not getting them to the right people, Fisher says. So instead of just applying through a website, do some digging on LinkedIn or elsewhere and see if you know anyone at the company or can find someone. Reach out to them and have a conversation.

"The more chats you have with human beings, the more likely you are to open doors," Fisher says.

"Mostly people are stuck in one approach," Fisher says. They think they need to send more applications when what it may be is they need to try a new tack. Maybe instead of just sending applications through a website, find a person and connect with them. Try "totally different things."

"Take a step back and look at what's not working in your current one and don't put energy in what's not working anymore," Fisher says.

If you're stuck at No. 2, securing an interview, then the problem may be with your resume or cover letter, Ng says.

How to craft a winning resume

There are tons of examples of winning resumes out there and lots of advice from career coaches and hiring managers. Search for that information online, heed the advice and compare those resumes to yours.

Here are three tips for an eye-catching resume from Jeff Hyman, a recruiter and the CEO of Recruit Rockstars:

  • Don't just list your job responsibilities highlight your achievements and results. Use bullet points to highlight your achievements — and make them quantifiable. Say that you increased sales by X%, reduced costs by X%, doubled the number of customers in XX amount of time or were promoted multiple times in XX years.

    "[R]eally any kind of data points that will instantly impress the reader and make them think, 'Wow, they kicked butt in this role, and can show proof of their value,'" Hyman explained.
  • Mirror the job description. Be sure to include at least five keywords or specific functions of the role listed in the job posting.
  • Emphasize leadership and management skills. This is one of the hardest qualities to recruit for — and one of the most valuable. Wherever you can, even if you weren't specifically in a management role, highlight those skills and use examples.

How to nail the job interview

If you're stuck at No. 3, getting past the interview to a job offer, do some research for the best way to nail the job interview — and then practice!

Jordan Gibbs, a recruiter in the tech industry, was laid off but after 173 job applications and 42 interviews, landed a new job. Here are her interview tips to help you land the job:

  • Over-prepare. She actually built a dossier for every company she interviewed for to help her understand the leadership team, key achievements, where the money comes from, etc. This helped her ask really thoughtful questions and stand out in the interview.
  • Rehearse your elevator pitch. Yes, you know your experience and achievements, likes and dislikes. And you may be great off the cuff. But it's important to prepare answers to commonly asked questions — short, concise answers that highlight your achievements — and, per the resume tips above, your quantifiable results.
  • Be honest about what you don't know. You do have to sell yourself and focus on the positives but don't try to hide what you don't know. That will come back to bite you.

Fisher, who has helped hundreds of people land six-figure salaries, offers up these five job interview phrases that will make companies want to hire you on the spot:

  1. "In the past, I've been noticed for getting teams to do [X thing], thanks to my [Y skill]."
  2. "In a performance review, my manager pointed out that I am particularly good at [X skill]."
  3. "My colleagues would always comment on my ability to do [X thing], thanks to my [Y skill]."
  4. "I am known for improving our team culture, thanks to my [X skill].
  5. "I have a few close friends that have stayed with me throughout life."

Consider bringing a professional portfolio of your accomplishments with you to help sell yourself and your value during the interview.

"Even if you have great experience, if you can't talk about that experience, recruiters and hiring managers might have concerns about your communication and critical thinking skills," said Sarah Doody, the founder of Career Strategy Lab, who has helped clients land jobs at companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, Nordstrom, Spotify and Blue Origin.

A professional portfolio could be just a "simple presentation with examples of projects you've worked on. This will help you show and not just tell people about your experience," Doody said.

Focus on progress, not perfection

If I had one general overarching piece of advice for anyone who feels stuck on anything, I would say, Stay in motion. You're not going to find the answers on your couch.

Take a class, meet someone for coffee, read a book, listen to a podcast. Eventually you'll stumble on something that can help loosen up the gears and keep you moving forward.

You can also ask yourself: "What's next?" suggests Fisher. If you're staying in motion and asking yourself that question at the same time, you never know what might speak to you, helping you get on to what's next.

"When I'm stuck, I remind myself to not focus on perfection and the power of compound progress," Doody said. "It's so easy to sit and stare at a blank screen for minutes or hours on end. However, I find that once I just start, it creates momentum because then I have something to work with and the ideas start to flow and with progress comes confidence!"

While job searches are hard and can take a long time, stick with it. Don't settle.

"The job search can be a real drag, especially if you've been at it for some time," Ng said. "After one too many rejections, it can be easy to think, 'Heck … I'll just take anything at this point.' Tough times are not the time to lower your standards for the sake of lowering your standards; they're the time to (a) be realistic and (b) focus."

— With reporting by Morgan Smith and Jennifer Liu.

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