In today’s job market, you may need to stay flexible and open-minded in order to find your next role. And that could be a really good thing — breaking past your assumptions and finding out what you’re really capable of can be a career breakthrough.
So how do you start to think more broadly about where your skills might fit, what you’re qualified to do, and where else you might be happy? And once you’ve found a few new directions to pursue, how do you pitch yourself and your skills to those hiring managers?
Broadening your job search
Maybe you’ve been suddenly thrown from a previously well-defined career path and haven’t spent much time thinking about what other jobs you might be suited for. Or maybe your career has been non-linear, and it doesn’t clearly point you toward any one industry or role. aybe you’ve been job hunting for a while without luck. Or maybe you aren’t feeling challenged, fulfilled, or contented with your current role or industry. All are great reasons to explore new ways of thinking about your career.
It’s natural to start a job search by only looking for a certain type of role, or in a certain industry — the things that look like your current resume or imagined career path. But that approach is often just momentum, and you could be subconsciously limiting yourself if you only search that way. Not to mention that the recession might make it impractical.
Here are some steps to help you break out of that pattern and search more broadly.
Assess your current reality
If you’ve lost your job, the reality could be that right now you just need to find a job — any job — ASAP so that you can pay the bills. And that’s 100% OK, even if it doesn’t feel like that temporary job will help your career as much. Future employers are going to understand that you’d have to take a job to make ends meet during a recession, even if it isn’t clearly connected to your overall career. It also doesn’t have to go on your resume — that’s meant to be a tool for you to showcase your most relevant experiences, not a record of everything you’ve ever done.
Plus, over a decade of working with clients has taught me this: Every professional experience teaches us something, even if it’s in ways we don’t expect (which it often is).
Consider what’s important to you
Diving in, think of what’s most important to you in this job search. If you’re replacing a lost job: How much are your essential expenses right now, and how much do you need to earn to make ends meet? How far are you willing and able to travel (if at all during this pandemic)? Do you need to factor childcare into the equation if you have kids who are home from school?
But whether you’re trying to replace a job right away or exploring while you stay at your current job, now is a good opportunity to reset and reflect on what you’re looking for in the long term, too. What kind of team and company culture do you want to find in your next role? Would you be willing to move? What kind of leadership are you looking for? What are your salary and benefit requirements, and are you perhaps willing to lower them temporarily if your new company believes they will be able to offer you more when the pandemic eases? Finally, do an exercise that will help you identify your core values. Those can come in handy, especially if you end up needing to make tough decisions down the line.
Get curious about what interests you
Once you have some clarity on what’s important to you, the next step in expanding your job search is to discover what (other than what you’d been doing before) feels interesting.
My advice is to pull up LinkedIn and just start browsing open jobs — any open jobs. Look at all sorts of industries and functionalities, geographies and companies. Jot down or bookmark any job that sounds exciting or meaningful, even if you aren’t qualified to do that job. Aim to get at least 15 interesting-looking jobs on your list, and keep that list handy for later. This is just a brainstorm step; challenge yourself to stay open-minded.
Look back at your past experiences and skills
Next, think back to your past jobs or significant projects. Write down at least three, if you can. Underneath each one, list out everything you did or were responsible for in that role.
Then ask yourself: What motivated you most about each of those roles or projects; what felt like pulling teeth? What did you love doing, and what did you dread? What gave you the most energy, and what drained your energy? Circle those things on your list, or jot them down if they aren’t listed.
Similarly, what came easily to you in those roles or projects, and what challenged you most? Were there any tasks that you felt played to your strengths, any that you were praised for? What skills did you use or learn — both hard skills, like using certain programs, and soft skills, like communication? Circle those things, too.
Identify common themes
Now we put it all together: Look at all the interesting jobs you bookmarked on LinkedIn, the things that interested you about your previous roles, and the skills you brought to the table.
Where are the common themes? For example, maybe you find that you have a love of public service, structure, creativity, teamwork, helping people, having room to shine, or analyzing vs doing. Maybe you’re skilled at organization, data analytics, communication, considering things from a devil’s advocate perspective, math, design, having strong attention to detail, thinking outside the box, or just plain getting stuff done.
These commonalities — not the job description you had before — are going to help direct your job search.
Search for related roles
Now, with your list of common values and skills in hand, you can start to look for a broad range of roles that relate to them. Start with two things: research and your network.
First, do some good old-fashioned googling. “Jobs for people who love public service.” “Jobs for people who have data analytics skills.” “Jobs for people who have experience as a graphic designer.” That might lead you to some informative articles that kick-start your search. You can also try searching on LinkedIn jobs, Indeed, and other major job board sites using the keywords (skills, interests, etc) that you’ve identified. What types of jobs and opportunities are coming up? What kinds of companies are hiring in this space?
Next, look through the LinkedIn profiles of past coworkers, classmates, or other connections who at one point did something similar to yourself. What are those people doing now? What did their career path look like? You might also find some new people who have roles or experiences similar to what you put on your interest list. What are their profiles like? What can you learn from their stories? Perhaps you can reach out and set up an exploratory conversation or a casual virtual coffee chat to learn more about how they got where they are today.
And last, if you’re looking for something specialized or you’re really feeling stuck, you might consider working with an external recruiter who specializes in what you want to do. These people often help to place part-time or temporary to permanent employees, but it can be a good way to get your foot in the door. Share your interest list with your recruiter, too — that will help them help you.
To find one, start by letting your network know that you’re looking. If you know or find a recruiter who doesn’t specialize in your industry, reach out anyway, because they might be able to connect you with a colleague who does. You can also look at the people posting LinkedIn jobs and run a simple Google search. Just know what you’re looking for: I typically recommend working with a recruiter at a firm that’s been around a while; they probably have more connections with potential employers.
Reframing your experiences for potential employers
Finding jobs you can apply for that are outside your wheelhouse is only half the battle. Next you have to prep and decide how you’ll frame your skills and experiences when you apply.
Craft your personal narrative
Your personal narrative is your authentic story that connects the dots between where you are and where you’re trying to go professionally. It’s your unique magic; the strengths and experiences that make you unlike anyone else. It’s made up of all the talking points you lean on when you’re introducing yourself, networking, applying, and interviewing.
Now is the time to refine your narrative, even if you already had one that you felt pretty good about. Because this pandemic has left nobody untouched, and it can’t be ignored when you apply for jobs. The ways you’ve been impacted by and responded to it can’t be left out. In fact, I’d even call it a unique opportunity to highlight your resilience and fortitude.
Here are a few questions to think about as you craft your narrative: What are your top three strengths and opportunities? How do others describe you? (Ask a few people!) What have you learned since the start of this pandemic — personally, professionally, technically? Have you done any unpaid or volunteer work to pass the time or refine your skills? Has this job loss changed — or maybe solidified — the kind of work you want to do in the future?
Shape your narrative to the jobs you apply for
Literally. For every job you apply for, print out the job description. Then mark up the page, highlighting the experience and qualifications that you definitely have, halfway have, and don’t yet have. Brainstorm how you can directly tie the different tasks to your personal narrative. All this information can help you write a cover letter, if it’s required in your application, and answer tough interview questions.
Don’t worry if you can’t check all the boxes — most candidates won’t. In fact, one study showed that if you meet 50% of a job’s requirements, you’re just as likely to get it as you’d be if you hit 90% of the requirements. And women — who, by the way, tend to only apply if they think they meet 100% of the requirements — actually only need to hit 40%.
That being said, it’s worth planning out how you might address gaps in your skill set. If the job requires Microsoft Excel proficiency, for example, perhaps you can find an online course. Then, during your interview, you can tell them that it’s in progress. Be willing and ready to help them connect the dots between what they’re asking for in black and white, on the page, and what you have to offer that’s related but maybe not exact.
And practice. Make a list of common interview questions that you might find challenging, and then brainstorm and actually write down your answers. Practice with a friend or family member, practice in the mirror, practice in your head.
And then, as you send that email / submit that application / fire up Zoom, remember: You got this. And we’re rooting for you.
© 2020 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All opinions and views expressed by Ellevest are current as of the date of this writing, for informational purposes only, and do not constitute or imply an endorsement of any third party’s products or services.
The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific person.