Why You Shouldn’t Treat Your Job Search Like a Job, with Paige Webster

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 220:

Why You Shouldn’t Treat Your Job Search Like a Job, with Paige Webster

Airdate: December 4, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I interview a different expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.

Have you ever been unemployed?

I have. The first time it happened to me I was out for work for more than six months.

Because I didn’t know any better, at first I spent eight hours a day filling out job applications.

It was like I joined a new company. And my new full-time job was to apply for any position, anywhere.

In spite of all that work, I didn’t get a single offer.

Our guest today says you make a big mistake when you do what I did and you treat a job search like a job.

Here to talk about this is Paige Webster.

She’s a professional certified career coach. And Paige joins us today in person in the Mac’s List studio in Portland, Oregon. 

Paige, here’s where I want to start. We’ve all been told this, “You’ve got to treat your job search like a job.” Why is this bad advice?

Paige Webster:

First of all, well, many people have jobs that they feel like are a grind and so it’s not very motivating to treat your job search like a job because your job might very well have been a grind.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and so you’re just repeating that experience you had in the office.

Paige Webster:

Exactly, and the second thing is that I think searching for a job takes a lot of energy. It’s a vulnerable thing to do and you’re putting a lot of energy and you’re putting a lot of yourself out there again and again and again.

And you may not hear anything immediately, and so because you’re putting out so much energy, you need to find a way to fill that well. I think spending 40 hours a week is just, it’s too draining to be able to continue a job search effectively if that’s how much time you’re spending on it.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so let’s back up.

Paige Webster:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

I know that you’re not going to argue that job searching can be fun and glorious, like a vacation, but it doesn’t have to be something you dread, or monotonous, or as bad as maybe a job you disliked.

Paige Webster:

Right, and I think not having a job then gives you a chance to figure out a schedule that actually works for you.

So, when are you most productive in the day? When is your brain really firing on all four cylinders? When is it that it makes sense for you to go to the gym and finally start your gym habit that you’ve been talking about starting ever since you started your last job.

It gives you an opportunity to really find a way to create a more balanced life and then bring that balance into whatever your next position is.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so Paige, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t do…the people that you work with who treat a job search like a job…what does a typical day look like for someone like that?

Paige Webster:

It would be looking at job boards, then taking resumes and just shooting them out to a variety of jobs, and not bothering to customize them based on what the job title is. It would be using a generic cover letter, that as soon as a recruiter sees it, they know that they probably pulled it from some Microsoft Word template. And it would be thinking that you ought to be spending from 8:00 or 9:00 am to 5:00 pm just doing research or putting out more resumes or contacting people. And I think it’s a misuse of your resources.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, everything you just described I’ve done, early in my career, I had many days like that, that went on for months actually. I did that because I didn’t know any better. Why do you find the clients you work with do those things? Because I know people are putting in the work, they’re trying.

Paige Webster:

Oh absolutely, right? Because it feels like you are doing a lot of work and so, people, I think it eases the anxiety sometimes and it makes you feel like you are taking control of your job search. And if you spend eight hours a day doing a job search, then you think, “Of course I should find a job because I’m putting in so much effort.” But I would say that you need to put in effort on doing the right things. The things that are going to get you the biggest bang for your buck.

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk about those in a moment. Tell our listeners why the steps you describe aren’t effective; sending out the generic resumes and cover letters, for example, or multiple applications. Why doesn’t that work?

Paige Webster:

Well, for a couple of reasons. One is, you need to be able to distinguish yourself from other people, and if you’re applying for a job using the cover letter or the resume that you used for a job that has a different skill set, then there’s a mismatch.

And the applicant tracking systems that are used to scan resumes and cover letters, they are looking for keywords. And so it’s really important for you, when you’re applying for a job, to look at the job posting, and the qualifications and how it’s described, and make sure that you are using the same language that they are to talk about the same skills. Because sometimes a company will say “customer service” and another company might call it a “sales associate,” and you need to be able to use the language that they’re talking about, that they’re using.

Mac Prichard:

These aren’t only smart strategies, your competitors for that position are doing these things too, aren’t they?

Paige Webster:

Absolutely, yes.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so those are the things you shouldn’t do. Let’s talk about the typical day of somebody who isn’t treating their job search like a job but obviously isn’t goofing off. What are they doing, Paige?

Paige Webster:

I like that, that’s a great question. They’re focused on what it is that they need to accomplish that day. And I would say they may be spending two to three hours a day on doing their job search and it would be prioritizing, “What are the activities for that day?” And one of the…I like to reframe how somebody approaches the job search in terms of, “Okay, what do I want to learn today and what do I want to accomplish today?”

What I want to learn may be, “Do I want to learn about a company? Do I want to do research about my contacts that I’m reaching out to? Am I learning about a different position that I think I might be qualified for but don’t quite know yet?”

And so it’s important to know what you need to find out that day. And then it’s also important to prioritize, “Okay, when is a job application due?”

And work on the most important things first, and to chunk it up so that you…one of the things I like to use with my clients is the Pomodoro method, where you do something for 20 minutes and then you take a break and keep your brain fresh whenever you’re approaching that task.

So, I would spend maybe three hours doing job search stuff, take a nice break where you get away from it completely and then if there are other things that you need to tend to later in the day, check your email again, see if you’ve heard from anybody and respond to them.

That’s a good way of approaching it, in my opinion.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s unpack that a bit.

Paige Webster:

Okay.

Mac Prichard:

Because there are, I think, some listeners might say, “Well, I do want to find out more about a company,” or, “I am interested in this particular kind of job, so I’m going to send off an application to that firm, and I’ll use the interview process to learn more about that company or decide if that position might be a good fit for me.”

Why isn’t that a good idea, Paige?

Paige Webster:

You know, there’s so much information available now on the internet and through your network, that if you walk into an interview and you’re not prepared, it is very clear. It becomes very clear very quickly that you are unprepared, and that will demonstrate to a potential employer that you just don’t care.

That is often the interpretation, and so, because the information is so easily available now, you can do a lot of research on figuring out, what does this company call an account manager versus what does another company call the role of account management?

You can talk to people, there are many things that you can do to learn about those positions before you walk into the interview. So that the questions that you ask in that interview process are far more targeted to that company and that position and it will demonstrate your interest in the position as well as, it will demonstrate your ability to actually do research.

Mac Prichard:

Talk more about the benefits of that research because I’m guessing it means you’re applying for fewer jobs because you may decide, “I don’t want to work for this company” after you spend 30 minutes looking at their website.

Paige Webster:

Exactly, right? So I always advocate for quality over quantity. That it’s better to choose the…I knew someone who went onto Glassdoor and she only applied for the companies that had five-star ratings or above.

That’s a strategy, you may not want to use that one but it’s a possible strategy for curating your list of companies to expend the energy on. And oftentimes, people are like, “Well, that company’s not hiring.”

Well, that company isn’t hiring at that moment, that you know of. But so often, jobs become available and the first thing somebody does when they come out of a meeting and realize that they need to hire somebody is that they turn to the person next to them and say, “Hey, do you know anyone who does X, Y, or Z?”

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk more, after the break, about good habits when you’re not treating your job search like a job but I do want to drill in on something that I know a lot of people do, Paige, which is send out those multiple applications. So, again, why is that not a good idea to send out five or ten applications a day?

What would you say to someone and says, “Hey Paige, it’s just a numbers game. If I send out 50 applications, I’m going to get two interviews so therefore to get six or eight interviews, I need to send out 200 applications.”

Why isn’t that a good strategy?

Paige Webster:

Because you’re not customizing. If you’re sending out that many in one day, it shows me that you’re not customizing your resume and your cover letter for that particular position, and so you may not be targeting exactly what it is that they’re looking for.

Mac Prichard:

But isn’t this a job seeker’s market right now, when we’re recording this? With record-low unemployment, people might think, “Well, I can decide. I’m in the driver’s seat.”

Paige Webster:

I just think it’s a waste of energy and that it’s a bad idea because it’s not actually a numbers game, like, that’s a myth. It’s not a numbers game. It really is about your relationships with people and, you know, 80% of people find a job through someone that they know or someone that they know who knows somebody. And so sending out a bunch of job applications is ignoring that fact. It’s just blanketing the world with your resume that isn’t tailored to what somebody’s looking for.

Mac Prichard:

We’re going to take a break but one quick question before we do that and that’s, you keep coming back to this idea that you’ve got to have a custom resume and a cover letter.

What happens when a hiring manager is looking at two applications, and one person has done that and the other person has just sent in a generic resume without a cover letter?

Paige Webster:

Oh, it’s very clear that someone is playing the numbers game rather than being truly interested in working at that company and putting in the effort. It is a clear reflection of what kind of employee they’re going to be which would be, you know, someone’s going to put in the extra effort to make sure that they’re getting the hiring manager what they want. Whereas somebody who’s just using a generic cover letter is checking the boxes.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific, we’ll be back in a moment and when we return we’ll continue our conversation with Paige Webster about why you shouldn’t treat a job search like a job.

As Paige has made clear, too many of us think of job hunting as a kind of daily to-do list.

We aim to send a certain number of applications every day. To meet our quota, we don’t include a cover letter. And we stop customizing our resume for every job.

And then we get frustrated because we never hear back or get an interview.

Early in my career, I did these things because I didn’t have a clear job search goal.

And because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, I focused instead on getting out as many applications as I could.

Do you know your job search goal?

Go to macslist.org/focus.

You’ll get our free guide, Finding Focus in Your Job Search. It shows you in four simple steps how to set your own career goals.

Go to macslist.org/focus. It’s free.

Six years after I finished college, I was out of work for six months. And every day I sent multiple applications to all kinds of employers.

Because I didn’t have a clear job search goal, I applied for all kinds of jobs. And sometimes I did get interviews. But I never got an offer.

What was I doing wrong?

It didn’t take hiring managers long to see that I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. But many of my competitors knew exactly what they wanted. And those are the people who got the job.

Once I set a goal, I got a great position in just six weeks. You can learn how to do this, too.

Get your free copy today of Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

Go to macslist.org/focus.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

Mac Prichard:

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Paige Webster. She’s a professional certified career coach.

Now, Paige, before the break, we were talking about the things you shouldn’t do during a job search that turns a search into, really, kind of a drudgery and doesn’t produce great results.

I’m intrigued. You said that somebody might spend three hours a day, maybe a little more, and if they use their time effectively, you’re going to see better results than, say, spending eight hours or more a day.

Why is that? Tell us more about that.

Paige Webster:

Well, I think part of it is how you spend your time, right? Like, if you’re spending an entire day just filling out job applications for positions you maybe are qualified for, you’re putting out a lot of energy but you’re not connecting with any people.

And so, I think your time is more effectively spent by, you know, putting together a list of people that you know already in your network and then reaching out to them and, you know, something that’s easy to do is set a goal.

“I’m going to reach out to one to five people per day.”

And they can be family, friends, or former colleagues, and any time you reach out to them, know what it is that you’re asking, what you want to get from them. But when you have an opportunity to talk to them, make sure to ask whether there’s anyone that they know that would be important for you to talk to.

Mac Prichard:

That sounds scary to a lot of people, reaching out to one to five people a day. It seems a lot easier and safer to send out one to five applications a day. Can you talk about why it’s important to go out and talk to folks?

Paige Webster:

Yes, so it is safer to fill out five applications per day. It’s just not effective, and so the reason is…and, you know, one of the ways that people can use their network is through LinkedIn, right?

Which is less scary, in my opinion, than trying to call somebody or ask for a favor. But if you are looking on LinkedIn, and you find somebody who works at a company that’s related…you know you have somebody in common or that works for a company where you’re interested in working, you know, I always love talking to people about what I do and I think most people do.

And so, reaching out to somebody and asking if you can just learn more about them and what they do in their company, that is not a threat. That is a pretty easy ask, if it’s a 15 to 20-minute phone call, whereas…and I would recommend that you request an informational interview.

You’re not asking people for a job, you’re just asking to get to know them a little bit and learn more about the company.

Mac Prichard:

Do you find that the clients you work with, Paige, that in the long run, it’s more energizing for them to get out and talk to people versus sitting at home eight hours a day, grinding out applications?

Paige Webster:

Absolutely, like, even for somebody who is a strong introvert, I think it’s still important to get out of the house. And that’s why I like the recommendation of just reaching out to one person that you know already and see if you can set up some sort of meeting with them. Getting out of the house is important.

It’s too isolating sitting at home and it is very draining. And then it’s much easier to stay in your head and not socialize and not interact with your friends. I mean, this is a time when you do have a little more time to spend time with your family, your friends, whatever, and be connected with people, that it’s not as easy to find that time when you’re working.

Mac Prichard:

As you talk, that kind of social isolation that results in negative emotions, they often occur among people who are in jobs they really hate. There’s a real parallel there, isn’t there?

Paige Webster:

Yes, right, exactly. That makes a lot of sense. Yeah, so, in a job, even if you’re surrounded by people but you don’t like the job, it’s not a good fit or you’re not enjoying it, there is a tendency to isolate and pull back from people, and the same thing is true of your job search.

If you are isolating yourself, you’re less likely to be enthusiastic when you show up for an interview, you’re less likely to be making the most of the network that you have and the resources that you have available to you, and you’re less likely to have something to say, even in an interview about, “Oh, how have you been spending your time?”

So getting out there, even though it’s uncomfortable, it is a great way of staying practiced in having conversations with people. And really, when you boil everything down, an interview is simply a conversation between two people who are talking shop.

Mac Prichard:

I’m a big fan of getting out and networking and talking to folks; I do want to throw in a caveat. There will be some rejection that comes when you reach out to people in your network, won’t there?

Paige Webster:

Yes, and that is where I’d say that there’s a numbers game. In that reaching out to people, that rather than sending out job applications and trying to hit 50 job applications, I would say, if you want to play a numbers game, play the numbers game according to how many people you’re reaching out to per day.

I know that salespeople often talk about the magic, “Get to 50 nos.” Once you’ve gotten to 50 nos, that means that you’ve asked enough people to get yeses to what you’re, in the sales context, to whatever you’re trying to sell, but in this context it’s…here’s a way to reframe rejection.

I would say it is, “Okay, I don’t need to spend any more time on that person, or perhaps that company. That is a way that helps me limit my list and now I can go spend time over here.” So, I would reframe it as not a rejection of you as a person but, “Hey, not the right time, not the right fit.” Okay, move on.

Mac Prichard:

I would add, too, that just as good salespeople learn techniques that reduce the number of nos they get, good networkers and job seekers learn how to make requests for informational interviews in a way that increases the likelihood that they’re going to get a yes.

And they also recognize that, sometimes, they have to ask two or even three times before someone says yes, but to your point, they do move on typically after there is no response to the third request.

Paige Webster:

Right.

Mac Prichard:

Well, how important is goal setting in doing a job search where you don’t get trapped into that kind of drudgery that we talked about in the first half of the interview? Do you find that one reason people send out so many applications is because they’re just not clear about what they want, Paige?

Paige Webster:

Well, that’s an interesting perspective. Yes, that makes sense that people would just fill out a bunch of job applications and see what sticks, right? That is one way that you could look at it.

But I think that it makes far more sense to take a little time and figure out what it is that you really want, and then start marketing that message. Because the worst thing…when you’re interviewing, it’s really important to know what you want, because everyone wants to help you once they find out that you’re looking for work. Most people want to help you and the first question they’re going to ask is, “Well, what do you want to do?” And an ineffective answer is, “Well, I can do anything in sales or I can do anything clerical. Or administrative.”

Those answers aren’t as helpful as having a really crystal clear, “I’d like to work as an IT project manager for a telecommunications company.”

Like, being able to site exactly what it is that you want means that people start going through the Rolodex in their heads of all the people they know. “Oh, I do know someone in telecommunications.” Or, “I do know someone in IT.” Or whatever. The more specific you are, the easier it is for someone else to help you.

Mac Prichard:

How helpful is it to have a list of companies or maybe nonprofit organizations you want to work at? You mentioned being specific about your job goal. Is it also useful, Paige, to know where exactly you might want to work?

Paige Webster:

Absolutely yes, because going back to, I would say, make a list of all of the people that you know and then all of the companies where you think you might want to work, or the companies that you’re interested in, and I would say that list could be anywhere from 10 companies to 50.

It just sort of depends on what your industry is, and it is important to have that so you can start checking them off about yay or nay and know where you need to focus your effort and energy.

Mac Prichard:

I want to go back to a point you made earlier, which was if you’re doing a job search along the lines that you’ve recommended, people might spend 3 or 4 hours a day job hunting but, Paige, what would you say to somebody who’s 6, 8 months into unemployment? And I’ve been there, I know many of our listeners have or are there now, and they’re getting anxious, and so they need to get something.

They may have family members or friends who are looking at them and saying, “What? You’re only spending 4 hours a day on your job search? You’ve got to get on it, pal.”

What would you say to a listener like that?

Paige Webster:

I would ask them what it is that they are doing because chances are, it’s not the amount of time they need to be spending, it’s not the amount of time that needs to change, it’s the set of activities they’re doing that needs to change. And often, what I find is that people just aren’t networking nearly as much as they think they are. So, I would ask them what activities they’re doing and probably recommend that they start attending more networking events where they’re going to meet more people.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so, look at how you spend your time, know where you want to go in terms of a job and perhaps employers as well. Any final tips for how listeners can make a job search less dreary and less like a job they once hated?

Paige Webster:

Yes, I think the question to ask yourself is really to start with your ideal situation. What is it that I most want? What would the ideal situation be? And start with that.

Rather than starting with the, “Oh, this is what I’ve been doing, so this is probably the only job that I could get.”

So, I like to start with the big-picture perspective of, you know, if I could wave a magic wand, what is it that you would ideally want to do? And so one of the first activities I give to people is, go ahead and look at all of the job postings to see, like, even the ones that are way outside your area of expertise, just to see what’s out there and see what might catch your fancy.

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a terrific conversation. Tell us, what’s next for you, Paige?

Paige Webster:

Well, I am leading some Artist’s Way groups. “The Artist’s Way” is a book about helping people tap into and develop their creativity, and I’m leading a facilitating group on the east side and on the west side, also.

Mac Prichard:

I know people can learn more about you and your services, Paige, by visiting your website. That address is paigewebstercoaching.com.

You’ve shared a lot of good advice today, Paige, what’s the one thing you want our listeners to remember about why they shouldn’t treat a job search like a job?

Paige Webster:

It’s quality over quantity.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I thought Paige had terrific energy in our conversation and there were so many good points to choose from.

Here’s the top one for me and that’s the idea of quality over quantity. I fell into this trap early on in my career. I thought that success meant getting out a certain number of applications and that would eventually lead to the job that I wanted.

It didn’t work for me then, and as Paige has made clear, it’s not working for people today.

Think about your goal and where you want to go, and if you’re struggling with that, we have a resource that can help. It’s a guide called Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

You can download it today for free.

Go to macslist.org/focus.

You’ll get a step by step guide to setting your own career goals and you can get it today by visiting macslist.com/focus.

Here’s more advice you’ve probably heard during a job search.

First, know and use keywords in your resume. This will get you past an employer’s automated tracking system.

Second, tweak every resume you send to catch the eye of a human being.

But how do you do both of those things?

Next week, our guest expert will be Virginia Franco. She’ll explain how to write a resume that appeals to both people and robots.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Spending 40+ hours a week on your job search can be a very draining experience. If you spend eight or more hours per day filling out applications, firing off generic resumes, and scanning job boards, you need to change your strategy, says Find Your Dream Job guest Paige Webster. Paige shares why focusing on 3-4 hours per day is better for you and how it increases your chances of finding the perfect position. Paige also recommends some specific questions to ask yourself and how to use your network to find the job that’s right for you. 

About Our Guest:

Paige Webster is a professional certified career coach. Through her coaching work, Paige helps individuals define what they want and learn practical tools for making their career (and life) dreams come to fruition.

Resources in This Episode: