Sonia Hendy-IsaacBy Sonia Hendy-Isaac – Senior Lecturer, Curriculum Design for Employer Engagement

In the current economic climate it’s difficult to find new ways to stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs and even more difficult to root out jobs that aren’t advertised through traditional means! Some companies have started advertising their vacancies almost exclusively through Social Media and their own websites – so if you’re not following their tweets, haven’t ‘liked’ or ‘linked up’ with them – you may not even know they’re recruiting. So what can you do about it? How can you go about creating new career opportunities?

Step One – Who are you?

First things first; who are you? No, really – check who you are according to the Web! Employers, especially in the current climate, will Google you ahead of shortlisting; so before you’ve even started an application form or sent off that CV – check yourself out.

Embarrassing photos, questionable status updates (we’ve all been there!), and controversial tweets, can prevent your opportunities and present a version of you that might not be the version of ‘you’ that you intended. Check and change your privacy settings on Social Media outlets and take down what you can that’s even slightly dodgy from the perspective of an employer. Remember, the web search is often the first impression you’ll make (beyond the application form, of course) – make it a professional one!

Step Two – Who do you want to work for?

With things as they are, people often focus on the job pages, or maybe sign on with recruitment agencies to seek out vacancies. This is obviously a logical place to start – but try to think a little deeper than that; make a list of your ideal employers and then hit the Social Media outputs for all of them. Create a ‘hotlist’ in your bookmarks or favourites on your browser of all their ‘Vacancy’ pages and check them daily; some employers reserve the right to withdraw vacancies as soon as they have sufficient applicants who meet the criteria – this could mean as little as a twenty-four hour window to apply for a job with your dream employer. The other trick here is to think laterally – what is it about the company that makes you want to work for them? Identify these values or attributes and then seek these out in other companies from different sectors – this is especially important if your career choice or job role has obvious crossover, e.g. Sales, Administration, or Management.

Step Three – Making applications personal

Many companies favour online applications nowadays and often the only space you have to be ‘you’ is through the, often dreaded, Personal Statement; think of this space as the best way to get across your personality, alignment to the role and overall career ambitions. Imagine it’s the script for a Dragon’s Den appearance – ask yourself – how do I sell me? First things first – analyse the job specification and ensure you have the relevant experience; if this isn’t the case, be honest and gently broach the subject – but carefully place such admissions in the context of your willingness to learn new skills and demonstrate how you have done this in other areas of your career or broader life experience. It’s also important to emphasise the type of person you are and what you value; for example, if you claim to be a generous character – how does this manifest itself? Are you generous with time, with money, with support? How would this characteristic benefit your potential employer? More often than not, employers love to see their own values reflected in yours – so make sure you think about how you might do that. Let them see to broadest version of you too – if you play an active within your community or spend time fundraising, volunteering or playing sports – use these experiences to present you as a rounded character. These types of outside interest activities are also ripe to use to cover any gaps in your career experience; for example, if your current job includes little or no negotiation and persuasive skills, use your experience as a fundraiser to demonstrate these. The other piece of advice is to make sure it’s readable – not only in terms of grammar and spelling, but does it tell a story? Does it construct a coherent narrative – does it get across your personality, alignment to the role and overall career ambitions (obvious, but well worth repeating)…

Step Four – Making contact

Ok, so we all know about the Old Boys Network – but the majority of us don’t actually have access to it; my advice – create your own! It sounds empty to say it, but networking is crucial when times are tough. The easiest way to start formulating your network is to explore who you know – family, friends and former employers/colleagues. Who works for a company you’d like to work for? Who would have the opportunity to give you an opportunity? Have you told them you’re looking for a new challenge? Do they know what you’d like to do, what you can do, what you’ve done? Being unemployed or looking for a career move can sometimes be a difficult subject to broach, but remember, although companies are in the main, legally obliged to advertise roles – an early heads-up never goes amiss and a personal contact may give you a quick win in terms of shortlisting. It’s also worth considering putting out an ‘opportunities request’ on Facebook, Twitter and/or LinkedIn – sometimes the best way to get inside info is to simply ask out loud!

The other area that often gets neglected are open business breakfasts, and networking events such as conferences and showcases; make the time to attend these if you can – have a business card and CV at the ready, and be prepared to introduce yourself to strangers – it’s a ballsy move and not for the faint hearted, but at the very least, you’ll have gathered some contacts to follow up and add to your existing network, some further first-hand information on possible employers and even the potential to secure a business mentor if you do it right.

Finally, make contact with an advertising employer – the application process can often feel sterile due to the influx of online applications and all personal relationships seem to be removed – so put them back! Contact the person named in the advert, discuss your experience with them, check for values alignment, give them a sense of yourself and then say when you’re applying – include their name in your personal statement and/or any covering letter/email. Make it personal!

Step Five – There is no box…

Right on the tail of ‘making it personal’ for an advertised role comes the next level – creating contact where there is no current vacancy. Contacting HR departments and/or the area within a company you would like to work with a simple phone call seems a little old fashioned, especially in the modern age of email! But trust me, making a quick, concise, well-planned phone call, highlights your initiative and opens a line of communication that didn’t exist before. In the same way you have created a hotlist for company vacancy pages – create a contacts hotlist and add them to your self-created network – follow these up every four to six weeks; remember, don’t pester – but do be persistent and consistent.

If you really want to be creative, here are a few possibilities – but the key trick, is to be original and genuine:

  • Create a blog or website – keep it professional and relevant to your career, but incorporate your personality and any additional activities that add to your experience – incorporate a link to it in every correspondence you have – you never know who might have a job for you!
  • Write your own Values Statement for your CV – be able to talk about how these values manifest themselves in all aspects of your life and how these values would be advantageous to a potential employer – use this in applications and personal statements.
  • Create a short film (think career showreel) and put it onto your blog, website or LinkedIn profile or email it to your new-found network and potential employers.
  • Record your personal statement or covering letter; it allows you to be upbeat, confident and more alive than the text! Email it as a sound file alongside a transcript of it, and traditional text-based CV – it shows confidence and innovation without ignoring the protocol of more traditional recruitment methods. You can also put this on you blog or website!
  • Create a ‘YOU’ magazine to replace the traditional CV; have it professionally printed and bound, send it directly to your named contact within the company through a ‘signed for’ delivery – the novelty of signing for something unexpected can create a fantastic first impression. Remember to include your Values Statement and links to any online presence.

Finally – remember this – opportunities don’t happen by accident – especially in a recession – so use as many tools as possible to create them!

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Sonia Hendy-Isaac

Sonia Hendy-Isaac

Senior Lecturer, Curriculum Design for Employer Engagement