Not getting the hits you want from numerous job applications you’ve submitted? There’s no magic bullet to getting a job offer – it can take a month to find the right job or it could take 12 months. External factors such as industry hiring cycles can stretch out the time from job search to job offer. However, there may be some areas of your search that are holding you back.

1.  Review the types of jobs you’re applying to. Are they a good fit for you? Do you actually have examples of using these skills or doing things similar to those listed in the “essential responsibilities” section? In any job search you should apply for jobs that stretch you a bit. You do not have to have every single skill or know every piece of software listed in the job ad. However, you should be able to demonstrate with examples your use of most of the skills, attributes and experiences required by the job. This review may be sobering, as it will inevitably narrow the career fields and job types you will apply to. And, that’s okay!

I hear PhDs say, “I can do almost any job. As a PhD, I know how to learn really quickly. These jobs certainly don’t seem difficult.” Too often, first time job seekers and career transitioners underestimate the work that’s done in the jobs that look appealing to them. It’s a classic case of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” This affects their job search because they leave the door open to too many career options. You cannot effectively pursue three or five different job types at the same time. You spread yourself too thin and will miss the details and nuances of each career field. Employers can spot this right away – your resume and cover letter will need to show them that you really get what they do. This comes from experience in the field (paid or unpaid, short term or long term) and from really digging into the field (reading about it, keeping up with trends and techniques, meeting people, etc.)

Yes, you could do many types of jobs, but what does your experience say you are most likely to exceed at, need the least training in, and can quickly get up to speed at? Employers aren’t hiring you to teach you to do the job rather to get the job done with minimal training investments on their part.

Narrowing your target jobs will actually be a good thing. It will help you edit down the number of job applications you send and concentrate on those career fields that are best matched to your skills and interests.

2.  Consider expanding or shrinking your job search criteria. If you’ve launched a job search, surely you’ve set out criteria for the types of jobs you want and your preferred features in these jobs. Job search criteria may relate to your commute time, geographic location, salary range, office environment type, work hours, industry and so on. I see many first-time job seekers make the mistake of not having established criteria or because of their unfamiliarity with work they have very stringent and unrealistic criteria.

I once worked with a biology PhD who was desperate to find a job beyond the bench. He’d been doing research for years and felt fed up with his options on the academic job market. He was very adamant that he would not commute outside of the city center where he lived. His wife worked there and his two children went to school there, and for him family time was very important and could not be jeopardized by long commutes. Every person and family has a unique set of needs, and my job as coach is not to talk you out of your values. However, my job as coach is to hold up your assumptions and choices before you to ensure that you’ve truly though through the choice, its consequences and potential alternatives. His inability (or unwillingness, I’m not sure) to travel more than 20 minutes really narrowed his job search, and even cost him an academic job that he’d been offered.

I can’t say what he should have done, but I asked him what would happen if he expanded his commuting radius to 45 minutes to one hour. Or if he landed a job one to two hours away, could his family could move somewhere in the middle to accommodate his wife’s commute and his commute. Or, would he be willing to try and negotiate a 4 day work week or a day to telecommute from home. Check your job search criteria to see if there are places that you can creatively revisit.

3.  If you’ve been searching for a while, you may need to take a break. There are ways to refuel when the job search lingers past when you thought it would. Taking a planned and contained break is one way to release yourself from the pressure and to energize your perspective. Taking a break may seem counterintuitive but it may be just the respite you need to refuel and reposition yourself for the search.

Which of these strategies might help you during your job search? What strategies have you tried to get employers’ attention during a lengthy job search?

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