Your Job Search Strategy When Every Bit of the Job Search is Broken (5 Tactics)

Figuring out your own job search strategy can be trick and confusing. I thought I knew what my job search strategy should have been, but I was going off of outdated assumptions. What’s worse, you can’t address the job search as a logical problem that an be solved with a linear solution.


Because the job search is broken at every level.

I recently wrote this tweet:

There are some great comments on there… click through to see it on Twitter.

Someone retweeted that and asked:

“What are some solutions you see? No matter how outlandish or unorthodox?”

My first thought was that I have been blogging about the broken job search process, with ideas and solutions, since 2006. But I couldn’t think of any particular post that ties all the ideas together. Rather, there are a bunch of different ideas, suggestions, etc.

In this post I want to address the issues and perhaps suggest some solutions.

Broken from the Employer Side

James and Winnie left comments on my tweet that start to shine a little light on what the job search is broken on the employer side. The bottom line is this: there are people intimately involved. As long as that’s true, the job search process from the hiring side will be inconsistent and feel broken.

I can’t emphasize this enough: when people are so intimately involved in the process and system, it will be messy.

I’ve been in this industry long enough to have talked, in depth, with some amazing people who have tried to fix this. These are people who are systemic, strategic, and empathetic. They understand things are broken and they see solutions, or parts of solutions. They lose sleep about fixing these problems, and think their solutions could change the world.

They could, indeed, change the world. But there’s another root problem (that I think is unfixable):

The Hiring Process Is Ungoverned

First, let me say, it should be ungoverned. I do not think any government should get their hands too deep into how hiring is done (or, deeper than where it already is). Of course, there should be some governing of things to decrease discrimination and things like that. The effectiveness of how that has been implemented is questionable, though.

Neither do I think some organization or association, like SHRM, should govern how hiring is done. I think they could suggest, create guidance and best practices, and trainings, but not government with rules/laws and penalties (again, outside of the legal issues).

Because this process is ungoverned it is highly fragmented. There are tons of companies and consultants who have their “best practices” the preach. There are recruiters and hiring managers with their best practices. And

Broken from the Job Seeker Side

My job search strategy was better than “look in the classified ads in a newspaper.” But only slightly better. Because I had no training in a job search I did what I assumed was right. Frankly, if I had hired a coach or a resume writer they would have immediately changed my job search strategy to include more current, effective tactics.

I see this just about every day. People are doing things they assume are right, but they aren’t necessarily effective. This is worse for the 60+ year old crowd who haven’t been in a job search for 30+ years.

The job search strategy for older professionals might be different.

Tangent: It is deeply saddening to hear someone who was 64, with less than a year to retire, get laid off and lose their benefits. Saddening and disgusting.

So what does a job seeker do? They could get the Parachute book, which I think was the most popular job search book on the planet. They could get a coach, if they had a few thousand dollars to spend. They could ask for help from family or friends who may be (or have been) successful in their fields but have no idea how the current job search, interviewing, negotiation, etc. goes today.

You could read articles, listen to podcasts, read books, etc. but really, are you trying to become an expert in job search or are you trying to land a job and become gainfully employed? I just wanted a job, I didn’t want to become an expert in this stuff.

The Job Search and Hiring Industries Are Fragmented

A fascinating observation I’ve had is that there is no single leader in this space. There isn’t one resume writer or company that everyone knows or respects. There isn’t a single job search coach, outplacement company, recruiting firm, HR leader, etc. that everyone knows is the leader.

The closest I saw was Dick Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute? Dick was an outstanding guy who wrote his first edition decades ago and updated it every year. He was highly respected, and known, but just about everyone I talked to in the industry. His books were everywhere I went to speak.

When Dick died we wondered who was going to take his place as the guru, the biggest name, the most trusted person in this space. Know who it was? Nobody.

I know hundreds of awesome career professsionals. Many of them are doing extremely well. But no one has anywhere near the clout or presense that Dick had.

Same in the recruiting space. Same in the HR space. Outplacement is a little different because there are only so many good-sized outplacement companies, so everyone knows who the biggies are. But I’ve not talked to anyone who thinks “they are the biggest, we need to follow in their steps.” They aren’t respected as being industry leaders (although they are certainly respected for the businesses they have grown).

How to Fix This Broken Mess

I’m not one to be the wet blanket. I usually am optimistic when it comes to opportunities for improvement. However, I think that as long as the human element is so high this is not going to be fixed.

Job seekers are human, with all of their emotions and quirks. Hiring managers are human, recruiters are human, job search professionals are human. We bring biases and experiences, hopes and dreams, and any of our emotional and mental stuff to the table.

As long as that’s true this process will feel broken.

I hope that some of the people in different parts of this equation really can move the needle and make improvements. The people doing standardized resumes, for example. I know of a company that did this that was aquired by AOL, and then the product kind of drifted away. Of course LinkedIn has the most standardized thing aside from a resume/CV, but based on my experience since I wrote the first edition of my LinkedIn book I’d say about 90% of profiles really stink.

I’ve talked to recruiters who have developed systems or processes that will change the world. I’ve gotten excited about them. They can make an impact on the problems they are aware of but I can’t think of anyone who has the abilility to impact the messy issues in a huge way.

Back to Your Job Search Strategy

Okay, enough of the problem definition. If you’ve been in a job search longer than a week you already know this stuff. The real question is, what do you do? What tactics should your job search strategy include?

Generally, career professionals agree that networking is the most important job search strategy you should have. This is rooted in questionable data (a survey from, I think, the sixties) as well as gut feel. I agree with this advice, although I’ve known plenty of people who get a job outside of networking. And, while networking for an executive role might be best, networking for an entry level fast food job might not be as important.

I have said if I’m in a job search I’d spend most (90%?) of my time with an informational interview strategy. This is one of the best, most effective networking strategies, not just for job seekers. Informational interviews are the bomb and it is not talked about enough. I created a course on Pluralsight where I train you on the why and how: Informational Interviews.

Marry networking with personal branding and you have a lot of work to do. You’ll also probably have more success than if you ignore these two tactics.

Part of personal branding is figuring out what, and how, to communicate. This applies to your resume, LinkedIn profile, anywhere online, professional networking, and of course job interviews. This even applies to salary negotiation.

When I got serious about networking and my personal brand, and making those a big part of my job search strategy, I saw changes. Changes in my attitude, results, etc.

Don’t Trust Others With Your Job Search Strategy

One of the most important things I can recommend is that you are proactive with any job search strategy you have. If you think HR or hiring managers or recruiters are going to hold your hand through this process, and give you special treatment, and make sure you don’t mess anything up, think again.

There are great people in these roles, and if you are their #1 candidate, they might do that. But generally you need to manage every aspect of this process that you can. That’s why you follow up. That’s why you come to interviews prepared. Don’t trust that others will take care of you. This is a competitive process and you need to go in as a competitor, not a victim.

I remember going to some training on the job search interview, which was rather sophisticated and very strategic. Then, I went to a job search interview which was anything but sophisticated and strategic. The interviewers (there were three of them) seemed to not be prepared at all, and probably printed some interview questions from a google search just before coming to the meeting.

It was then I realized it was my job to run the interview. Not in an overpowering way but tactfully. I needed to make sure messages I need to communicate got out, instead of waiting for them to get through their weak questions.

This became a big part of my job search strategy. It’s critical that you are proactive as you run through every aspect of a job search.

Follow Up

One last thing. I’ve mentioned this before but I can’t over emphasize the importance of following up. This needs to be a central part of your job search strategy. It is a big part of networking. It’s now you nurture relationships and squeeze one more touch-point in. It opens the door for more communication and can help keep yo top-of-mind for decision makers.

And that’s it. That’s my post on having a better job search strategy. Tell me what you’d add in the comments or on my JasonAlba Twitter account!