Here are some job search tips that will hopefully help you land that dream job or career.
Dress like you mean business -- Try to always wear formal business attire when meeting with people. I have been told that qualified professionals are easy to come by. The hard part is finding people who present themselves well and are reliable. It's amazing how many people are out there looking for a job don't even own a suit anymore. When looking for work, you need to make the most of what you have. You never know who you are going to end up talking to on a street corner while walking your dog (if you have one), or while waiting for or riding on the bus. Some of the most important business people out there walk their dogs just like everyone else.
Use Calling Cards, not Business Cards -- Unlike a business card, a calling card, sometimes called a Networking card, is more like a mini-resume. The idea is to leave people with more information than just your name and contact information so that they remember you when they come across your card in a few weeks (or even in a few days!). If you are shopping for a job in more than one field, just make a different card for each role. I have attached a PDF which includes several examples. These use checkmarks as bullets but you can use anything you like for a bullet as long as it looks clean, is easy to read and not crowded.
This first section should be in bold. Starting at the top left, it should include your name, extra language ability (like bilingual), and security clearance. Top right should include your telephone number and email address. Be sure to use a serious looking email address like Your.Name@gmail.com. Your.Name@yahoo.com just doesn't sound very serious.
Next, skip a line and centre your Job Title or Field.
Skip another line and then enter the following in bullet form:
- (# of) years experience doing…
- Excellent (list 3 top skills)
- Strong (list top soft skills)
- (Top technical expertise)
- Experienced in (list specific areas you have the most experience -- don't include areas you would rather not work in)
Skip another line and finally centre at the bottom of the calling card, add three of your best attributes separated by a bullet.
If you still want to get yourself some business cards, visit www.vistaprint.ca and click on "Free Business Cards". Choose and customize any of the 42 free professional looking business cards models. You just end up paying for Shipping and Handling. It cost less than $10 for 250 business cards. What's the catch? On the back of these free cards, Vista Print puts a small advertisement for their own company on the back of the card. You only pay for cards if you want to go beyond their basic design or get rid of the ad. They recently added Networking Cards to their list however I don't recommend you print on the back of the card. That's a space I like to leave empty so that people can write notes. Don't bother with the high gloss option either. It may look good but they are very hard to write on. Why make things difficult for your potential employer?
If you are on a budget and are looking for flexibility, check out the Avery Business Cards at Staples. You can easily print up your cards using MS Word and a printer. For more information visit http://www.staples.ca/ENG/Catalog/cat_i_results.asp?txtSearch=avery+business+cards&q=15&t=0
Security Clearance -- If you don't have security clearance, take steps immediately to get it. It takes a while to process these requests so it is best to get them started as soon as possible. Enhanced Reliability is the minimum anyone will ask for in Government of Canada and is also the quickest to get. As soon as you get it, apply for Secret security clearance as this will take much longer to get. The best way to apply for security clearance is to develop relationships with consulting firm and have them do it for you. Many of the consulting firms listed below will be able to help you out, many of them at no cost. Last time I checked, security clearance was good for 10 years.
Rates -- Employees typically make about 60% of what a consultant makes, and for a very good reason. Consultants need to pay for their own benefits, vacation, retirement and unemployment. Many employees turned consultant who don't realize this will either charge way under the going rate, or spend the extra money leaving nothing for rainy days. If you are contracting directly with the end client without subcontracting, you would normally charge 15-25% more. Consulting companies typically make this amount by charging this amount to the client above and beyond what you receive. You can usually negotiate this rate down (and hence, your rate up) with them if you are the one bringing them the business. You should feel free to ask them what their markup is. If a company isn't willing to share that information with you, thank them and move on. You would rather hear it from them than to find out down the road that they have been unfairly taking advantage of you. Why do they make so much? 1) because they can, 2) because they need to support their infrastructure of sales people, accounting, administration, etc., 3) because a good consulting firm with often pay you before they even get paid from the client. Their markup may be a little higher if you are not incorporated because then they need to manage your source deductions. Some firms won't even deal with you if you are not incorporated.
You don't need to take my word regarding rates though. When asked what your asking rate is, turn the question around and ask them what the client is looking to spend. You would really kick yourself if the client was looking to spend twice as much as you are asking. If you ask for too little, a consulting firm may still charge the client the going rate and pocket the difference. Another approach you can use, especially when you first start taking with consulting firms and are not too sure, is to ask them what they believe the going rate should be for someone with your skill set. What ever you do, you should be the last one to volunteer a rate. If they are really pressuring you, take your employee rate and add 50%. Then turn it into a range by adding/subtracting $25 a day and ask them if they feel you are within the going rate. If you are going to be doing a short job, your rates should be higher. Don't forget, they are not only paying for the fruit of your efforts, but the time and effort you may have spent marketing such as preparing proposals, interviews, filling questionnaires, responding to inquiries, providing estimates, as well as doing things to keep yourself in business such as book keeping, purchase and maintenance of office equipment, Internet connection, telephone line, keeping up your education, vehicle/travel expenses, health benefits, vacation pay, having/heating/furnishing/maintaining your home office, etc. It costs money to stay in business and if you take all those expenses and consider how much infrastructure you need to maintain on a short job, your rate will naturally need to be higher. A shorter job will also keep you from other potentially longer and more lucrative opportunities. On the other hand, if you are between two contracts, its easier to help someone out at a shorter per diem and gain a happy and potentially repeat customer by giving them a lower rate. Just be sure to let them know what your normal rate is and that you are doing them a favour. Then again, consider just taking the time off and spend it with your friends and family.
Also ask consulting firms how they pay their consultants. Some of my favourite consulting firms pay within one week from the time they receive my invoice and approved time sheet, and you can invoice them as often as once per week.
Consulting firms I tend to avoid are the ones that only pay after they get paid by the client.
One last tip on the subject -- If you want to make a higher per diem, dress the part and impress your potential employer. Wear formal business attire when going for an interview. People are more likely to hire a successful looking suit bearing consultant who looks like he knows what he is talking about at $500 (an arbitrary number for this example) if they look the part than if they were just wearing jeans and a t-shirt (unless you had a very special hard to find skill). You can always dress down for work to fit in. While wearing a suit, recruiters shared with me that their impression of me was that I would not go for the $150 a day jobs and they were absolutely right. Besides, if a client is going to pay me well to do a job, they should see and experience the best I have to offer. Here is a general rule if you prefer: Try to always dress one notch higher than everyone else for the interview.
Give Yourself a Raise -- When you are self-employed, nobody is going to offer you a raise. If you have lots of experience and feel you deserve to be making more, increase your rate by 10% a year. If you don't feel comfortable asking for 10% more, how about 5% every 6 months until you are making what you think someone with your skill set and experience is worth? When you are between jobs is the easiest time to raise your rate. All you need to do is add 10% to the amount you were making on your last job when asked what your rate is.
Be Prepared -- This doesn't only work in Scouting, but in the real world too. Be ready to follow up on a lead at a moment's notice. There are many other people looking for work out there and hot leads are often quickly filled.
Tell Everyone You Know -- Don't be shy but do sound confident with a positive attitude. You must always remember that everyone including your friends, colleague and strangers could be potential employer and they are always evaluating you whether you know it or not. People will be more likely to recommend you for worthwhile positions if they feel they feel confident in you. Remember that everyone is out of work at one point or another and it is nothing to be embarrassed about. If you are worried about having to tell people "I am still looking", tell them instead "I am between jobs right now and looking for new opportunities". Then share with them that you have been talking and meeting with people. You are always going to sound more attractive if someone thinks someone else thinks you are worth it. Someone once told me that sometimes the same thing goes on in dating. Every hear the phrase "When it rains, it pours"? This is what they are talking about.
Start by making a Contact List of everyone you know including all of your friends, relatives, former employers and colleagues. Add the names of organizations you have heard of and the names of contacts that people give you. Contact them all by telephone, one after the other and tell them that you are looking for new opportunities and challenges (it sounds more positive than saying "I am looking for a job"). 80%-90% of the jobs out there are not advertised. The only way you can find out about them is through word of mouth and nobody is going to come around knocking on your door to ask you if you want a job unless they know you are looking for one. Develop relationships with individuals at consulting firms and in organizations you really like. Once you have contacted them, follow up with them every two weeks after that until you are working again. This isn't excessive and they will appreciate it. As you can probably imagine, they have a significant amount of business flowing through their office, both consultants and clients. Although there isn't really any bad time to be calling them, Tuesdays through Thursdays are probably best. Friday are good too as consulting firms often have deadlines to bid on contracts. Best time for calling or meetings are in the morning, not in the afternoon when people start to get tired. Besides, you'll be fresh in their minds for opportunities coming through their office during the rest of the day. Early in the week will likely be better as people can forget you over the weekend.
Currently employed? Don't wait to do this. Potential employers like people who are employed. To them it means that you made it through someone else's' screening process, have current skills and are probably a good worthwhile candidate for them too. When people see that you haven't worked in a while, it could cause them to start wondering why.
Always follow up -- If you make a call to someone, follow up. If someone gives you a lead or referral, follow up on both the lead and the referral to thank them and let them know that you valued their contribution by having followed up on their lead. I was out of work for a few years back in the early 2000's. One day I decided to follow up on a referral someone had given me a couple of years earlier. Two weeks later I had a contract and was kicking myself for not following up on the lead two years earlier.
When you talk to someone by telephone, always follow up with an email, to confirm a meeting, or to thank them for their time. It's professional courtesy and will prompt them to keep you in their mind for new opportunities.
After meeting with anyone, always follow up with a thank you note. Mention something that was informative, impressive or helpful that you were able to take away from your meeting or that you will follow up on. Take the opportunity to include a short summary your skills. I like to include the information on my calling card. It's short, to the point and reminds them of why they should be keeping you in mind. Since this information isn't very long, I often customize it for specific opportunities.
People appreciate your responsiveness. Sometimes though, if I meet with someone on a Friday afternoon, I will wait to send the email until Monday morning, just to keep me fresher in their mind for the coming week. Don't send the email over the weekend. The most recent emails in their list Monday morning will be those more recently received. If they get a lot of email over the weekend, you don't want your message to be at the bottom of their list. After you have contacted someone referred to you, be sure to thank the person who referred you to them and let them know you appreciate it. They will be more likely to help you again in the future if they know you made use of the information they shared with you.
Sending someone your resume -- Call and speak to the person you will be sending your resume to BEFORE you send your resume, even if it is just to get the correct spelling of their name. Let them know that you will be sending them your resume shortly. A pleasant attitude and a smile over the telephone can make the difference between the looking forward to seeing your resume, and just another resume in their in-box. The moment you have some kind of personal contact with them, you are no longer just another piece of paper or electronic document.
The morning after you send off your resume to someone, follow up with that person to make sure they received it and offer to address any questions they might have. Not only will this cause them to take a look at your resume, but it will remind them of you.
Keep Track of your Progress-- Most people have no idea why they can't find work or are not in their dream job. However when you analyze their search efforts, it is often easy determine the cause. Here are some of the important things you should track throughout your job search (put it in a spreadsheet or Word table):
- Have you created a list and followed up (in person, by call -- not by email!) on your list of contacts
- Have you completed your calling card(S)? (draft -- ask people for feedback, final version)
- Is your resume up to date? Do you have a detailed version for consulting in Government?
- Have you promptly followed up on each call you make, resume you send out, application you write, interview you go through and referral that people have shared with you?
- How many employers have you contacted today? Could you contact more?
- Are you setting up information meetings or are you trying to get interviews?
- Are you sending emails (good) or are you taking the time to write and mail paper letters (better)
- Do you have a list of 3 business and 3 personal references? Do they know they are on your list? Are they aware of what you've been up to lately? Be sure to confirm with them that they don't mind being used as a reference and that it is alright for you to give out their contact information. Be sure to choose people who will bubble with enthusiasm when talking about you.
- Are you making your job search your full time job or only work on it occasionally?
It can be difficult to motivate yourself when you are between jobs (you were not unemployed!). The best way to stay motivated is to set goals (example: I will contact 20 people each day) and develop a routine. Schedule work time and break times. Realize that Facebook sucks your time so save this for lunch time or after work. Plan your job search and follow through. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done, even if you haven't reached your ultimate goal. Talk about your progress with your family. Not only will it help you realize just how well you are doing, but it will reassure them that you are hard at work (they might be worried too). Family and friends can be a great source of support. If you get into the habit of talking about it, you will become accountable to these people by the simple fact that you will want to report on your progress in finding a job, not your progress at chatting on Facebook, Twitter. Your priority is to get physically in front of people.
Don't get discouraged if you have an off day. We all have them. Remember that everyone has days that are more productive and some that are less. If you have an off day, or don't quite manage to do your best one day, go for a walk, get a good nights sleep and get back on the horse in the morning. If you seem to be having several off days in a row, you need to re-examine your priorities and re-organize your day to limit opportunities for distraction.
The more positive we see, the more that comes into our lives. By learning how to appreciate the small things, we learn how to truly appreciate the major moments. Small changes lead to big differences over time.
Have more than 10 years of experience? Write it down as 10+ years in order to avoid being stereotyped as too old, over qualified or too expensive.
Aim Higher and go for the Dream Job -- In life, most people settle for whatever they can get. Turn your job search into a game. How close can you get to your ideal job. The IT market is still much better than it 10 years years ago. There are many opportunities out there. If you take your job search seriously and make it your full time job (8:30 AM -- 4:00 PM Monday to Friday), I have no doubt that you will find a job within a few weeks. Find something that you will look forward to each day. Think of it as shopping for an employer which is best for you instead of just finding a job.
Life is too short to be wasted. Seize the moment for each moment is the only thing in life that you will never get again. Find the joy and then find fulfillment by teaching others how to find it too.
Make the most of your unemployment -- Of course I could tell you about how you should apply for EI as soon as possible since the penalty period starts from the day you file. But what I am really talking about is to make the most of your unemployment time. Time spent with your family and friends yields long term benefits that outlast the time you actually spend. In the grand scheme of things, being between jobs is a relatively short period in your life and can offer many benefits. Find a way to make the most of this flexible time while maintaining and working towards your goals. Find balance and don't panic. Create a plan, follow your plan, do your best, have faith and you'll be fine.
Skills Upgrade -- Some people think that they can't find a job because their IT skillset is obsolete. While that may be true in a few cases, the skillset that they really need to upgrade is actually on how to find a job. Most people haven't a clue.
Like any job in IT, there are ways to do it that work, and others that don't. Make sure that your desire to improve your technical skills isn't a delay tactic to avoid looking for a job.