As soon as you started thinking about launching a job search, you knew you’d have to work on your résumé, which is of course a logical first step.
But if you’re not careful, you can spend too much time seeking yet another opinion and revising your résumé for the third, fourth and fifth time, while equally critical job searching tasks are done in a hurry or pushed aside entirely.
Everyone has an opinion on how to make a résumé better, but even among recruiting experts feedback and direction will vary greatly. If you keep asking for more advice, you’ll keep getting new suggestions for improvement and could end up spinning your wheels endlessly.
Instead, you’d be better off directing your time and effort toward two often overlooked or underdeveloped activities. Each will help you avoid the common mistakes that can accidentally derail a promising opportunity before it gets a chance to take shape.
If you are just starting your job search or failing to gain traction, shift your time and attention to these two important tasks.
Send better emails
Candidates spend hours editing their résumés to grab attention and focus on their accomplishments only to send it to recruiters and influential contacts in a long, impersonal email.
Bad emails can cause your job search to start slow or to stagnate, which inevitably undermines your confidence. Instead, make the time to write strong, ultra-specific emails throughout the networking and interviewing process.
If you want to connect better through your messages, know this: all job search emails (i.e. introductions, follow-ups and expressions of thanks) need to be thoughtful, personal and concise. Even an introductory email to a person you’ve never spoken to should be limited to no more than one well-written paragraph.
This is hard to do because there is a great deal you want to say about your background and the reason you are reaching out. It takes more than twice the usual amount of time to write an email when you are figuring out how to say a lot with less words.
However, shorter emails respect the recipient’s time, quickly intrigue them and leave the door open for you to say more in the future. These are the emails that get read and are more likely to receive a response. They help you make and maintain a genuine connection.
On the other hand, long introductory emails, detailing your entire career history, give the impression that you might be getting desperate and are perhaps less sought-after in the job market. That long thank-you email comes off as impersonal, even if you change out names and add a reference to your discussion. Recipients instinctively know that most long emails inevitably contain copied and pasted text.
Don’t hit send until you check for brevity and make sure that you’ve written an email so personal that it would be completely out of place if you tried to send the same message to anyone else.
Craft a compelling career story
It’s not enough to know the roles you’ve held or what you’ve accomplished over your career—you need to be able to tell that story in a cohesive and interesting way.
A career story is different from your elevator pitch in that it is a bit longer (three to five minutes), and mixes in your career goals and professional brand with the more detailed information from your résumé like the companies you’ve worked at and the titles you’ve held.
When you’re asked to “tell me about yourself” or “tell me a little more about your experience”, a career story gives you a succinct way to quickly share your qualifications and what makes you unique.
Your career path has not been like anyone else’s. A good career story helps you explain what’s special about you and why that matters for the role you’re applying to.
Start by grouping your experience in three buckets (or two if you’re newer in your career and have only had one or two jobs) and give each bucket a theme that corresponds with a relevant skill.
The first bucket explains your education and your earliest years in the workforce. This is where you highlight the bedrock of knowledge and expertise that has grown over time or your foundational years that later sent you in another direction. Don’t spend much time talking in detail about these jobs but mention industries or company names.
The second bucket is the core of your work experience; it should be the things you’ve been doing the longest. For most people, the skill you discuss in the second bucket is the one you are best known for, but perhaps ready to grow beyond.
You may or may not have significant experience in the third bucket and if you do, it is probably just your most recent job. But this is where you want to make clear what is the largest leadership title and scope of impact you’ve had and how that job positions you for a similar or even bigger role.
The skill you highlight in the third bucket showcases not just what you are capable of but also what you want to be doing next. For example, if you’re a gifted leader seeking a larger platform, then be sure to end your career story with a third bucket that highlights exactly the kind of leader you are.
Similar to working on your résumé, you should seek feedback from colleagues and career professionals before finalizing your story.
Take these tasks seriously. By investing time to work on your emails and career story, you not only leave more to be discussed and probed upon in an interview—you’ve also built a connection and shaped their perception of you from the very beginning.