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I'm Going Crazy! What's the Secret of Job Hunting?

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I'm trying to get a real full-time job after a 5-year string of part-time and temporary jobs since graduating from college. More accurately, I've been trying to get a real full-time job this whole time, but temporary and part-time jobs are all I can get. I can scarcely get an interview. The last of my money is gone, and I need a job RIGHT NOW. My question is, what does HR want to see on a resume? What do you want to hear in an interview? I am prepared to say and do ANYTHING if it means getting a job. But I need to know specifics. Which phrases am I supposed to use? Which phrases should I avoid?

Here is the secret of job hunting: The hiring manager desperately wants you to be the right person for the job. She hates interviewing, wants things fully staffed, and is tired of having to do her job short handed.

The key, then, is becoming the right person for the job. Now, it so happens that sometimes you are going to accidentally stumble upon a job for which you are a perfect fit. The rest of the time, you need to search out the right company and do what it takes to become the right person for the job.

This means that it's not very productive to send out hundreds of resumes to every job opening that you find. In fact, I'm going to tell you it's not worth your time.

I hope I didn't induce panic. Think of it this way: One definition of insane is doing the same thing over and expecting different results. You've been looking for 5 years and it hasn't worked. The economy is not pleasant now, but it was 5 years ago when you started. So, the problem is less like to be the economy then it is you.

You do need to have a good resume, with no mistakes. My BNET Colleagues, Jessica Stillman and Steve Tobak, just gave us 5 words that you shouldn't use on your resume and reminded us not to pad your resume. It's fabulous advice. So work on making your resume really good and honest. And once it's done, save a copy of it on your hard drive, e-mail a copy to your online e-mail account, just in case your computer crashes, and now leave that alone. It's done.

Stop thinking that the resume will get you a job. With 5 years of temporary assignments that resume isn't going to be the first choice of any recruiter. The assumption (true or false) is that if you were any good, at least one of those temp positions should have led to a regular job. So you need to bypass the recruiter. And I don't mean doing this by trying to talk the switchboard operator into giving you the extension of the hiring manager. I mean, you must start networking.

You have 5 years of former bosses and colleagues to hit up. Don't start calling them and saying, "I need a job!" because that is something that just makes people cringe. So that's the first phrase you avoid. Other phrases to avoid are:

  • I'm out of money
  • I'm desperate
  • I'll do anything, just give me a chance
Why? Because for some reason there is this stigma to needing a job. We should all be independently wealthy and just hold jobs to fill our days, or something. It's silly, but it's off putting.

Instead, approach your former colleagues by asking them what they are doing these days. Get them talking about themselves. Find out what they do and if it's something that you have the capability of doing, let them know that you are interested in working in the same field. Then ask if they know anyone who is hiring in that area. You see, you need to establish that you can do the work before you ask for the work. it's backwards, but more effective.

Another approach is to switch paths altogether. Take that part time job you get to hold things over until a "real" job materializes and instead, make it a real job. Turnover is sky high in retail, restaurants, call centers, nursing homes, and the like. Someone who comes into one of those jobs and approaches it like a career will likely move very quickly into a full time, "permanent" position. (I put permanent in quotes only because there is no such thing as a permanent job, even though we say things like "temp to perm.")

Once upon a time I worked for the world's best grocery store, Wegmans. Wegmans has consistently been in Fortune's Top 100 Companies to Work For for over 10 years. Do you know where their department managers came from? Many started out as a part time hourly employee. They proved themselves and now have great careers.

Likewise, when you are in a temp job, don't take it as a "temp" position, but pretend it is a regular job. Work like you'll be there in a year. Show people that you are bright and capable. Make yourself invaluable. And, whatever you do, maintain good relationships with everyone and network like crazy.

Photo by darkpatator, Flickr cc 2.0