This year, in the midst of recession, I secured a new job and increased my salary by just over 20%. My reason for writing about this is to demonstrate that despite difficult economic times, it is still possible for people to find opportunities that will significantly increase their incomes. This post relays the steps that I recommend taking to find and secure better paid employment.
Set A Goal
Finding a better paid job needs to be treated as a project, and for the project to even begin, let alone succeed you need to have a goal that you can work towards, otherwise it is all too easy to procrastinate, simply thinking about changing jobs, but never getting round to it.
Your goal can be as simple as ‘I want to increase my salary by 15% by this time next year’, and with a timely goal set, you can develop a basic plan of activities that will maximise your chances of achieving it.
Treating your job search as a project also requires you to get organised. Start off by creating a new folder on your computer called ‘Job Search’ or something similar and set up the following sub-folders:
- Market research
- Swipe file of other people’s CV’s, cover letters and job descriptions
- Cover Letters
You should also set up a spreadsheet in your folder to store contact details of agencies, track which companies you have applied to and record the login details for the various job boards that you will be signing up to.
As you progress through your job search, populate the folders with the relevant documents, thereby ensuring you have quick and easy access when you need them.
Do Your Analysis
It is a tough world out there at the moment, so you need to understand where the good opportunities are and what skills / experience are required to get them.
Successful corporations regularly conduct analysis to understand their strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities available to them and the potential threats that may impact their profitability, and successful job-hunters need to do the same.
Begin with a personal skills audit, listing all of your skills and areas of expertise on a piece of paper. This will mainly be made up of things you have learnt from work, such as:
- Specialist industry knowledge (e.g. finance, marketing, construction)
- Qualifications and experience
- Transferable skills (e.g. communications, project management, budgeting, time management, IT skills, problem solving, development of others)
- Major achievements in your career
In addition there may also be skills you have picked up from hobbies and interests outside of work, such as web design, photography or arranging events for charity.
Next start reviewing the market to understand what opportunities are available. Look through the major job-boards to find jobs that suit your skills and begin noting down the salary levels. This will give you an indication of the salary ceiling of your job and allow you to gauge how much additional salary you could earn if you moved jobs.
People who have been in the same role for a while are more likely to find that they are earning below market average, as businesses don’t tend to reward loyalty with sufficient salary increases to match market conditions.
Alternatively, you may find that you are earning or exceeding the salary ceiling for your type of job and you need to find out what skills and experience you need to position yourself for the next grade up, and then decide how you will achieve that.
Ensure you store any documents and analysis notes in your Market Research folder for future reference.
Update Your CV
Treat your CV as a marketing document that sells a very unique product – You. The key objective of your CV is to clearly explain to employers how you can help their organisation be more successful.
The structure of your CV is very important. Begin with a value statement, which quickly summarises who you are and what you can do, such as:
David is a highly experienced IT consultant and expert in business transformation, who utilises his thought leadership and delivery skills to design, develop and implement practical and effective technology solutions to complex business needs.
Claire is a well regarded marketing specialist, who has consistently designed and delivered effective marketing campaigns, resulting in increased brand awareness and profitability.
Employers will be reviewing dozens of CVs for each position and the value statement should quickly convey to them that you are relevant to the role, encouraging them to read the document in full, instead of discarding it for somebody else’s.
To further entice their interest, follow up on your value statement with a bullet-point list of relevant strengths and skills. Try to provide a mixture of role specific and generic attributes, such as:
- 10 years experience of managing large (insert industry type) projects
- (insert industry standard qualification name) qualified
- Excellent team player and proven team leadership skills
- Experienced with (insert key software packages required for the role)
Again these bullet-points will help the reader to quickly confirm that you are relevant for the role, so try to tailor you CV towards the position to which you are applying and make it easy for the person reviewing your CV to see that you are a strong candidate.
The main body of your CV should provide an overview of your work experience, listed in chronological order, starting with your most recent role first.
When describing your work experience, be sure to focus on benefits and not just features. So rather than just listing out the various roles and activities that you performed in the past, explain how your actions helped increase profitability, raised staff morale, cut costs, identified new customers or markets, avoided expensive legal issues or improved the quality of a service.
For example, a features-based work experience description would be:
Marketing Manager – Crumbly Cookies Corporation – 2007 to 2010
Responsible for developing marketing strategy, development and implementation of campaigns, PR and advertising. Managed an internal team of 6 and 2 external agencies.
However, prospective employers would be more impressed with a benefits-based work experience description, such as:
Marketing Manager – Crumbly Cookies Corporation – 2007 to 2010
Designed and implemented the award-winning Crumbly Cookie Competition campaign that increased brand awareness by 20% and raised sales revenues by 15%. Provided my team of 6 people with mentoring and coaching to improve their skills and implemented a new procurement process for my 2 external agencies that reduced marketing costs by 7%.
For more CV ideas, ask friends, family or colleagues if you can have a copy of their CV, as you may pick up useful terminologies or approaches for selling the benefits of your skills.
Job descriptions from vacancies advertised also provide a good idea of the types of skills or industry buzzwords that you should be aiming to include on your CV.
Online Copywriters often keep a ‘Swipe File’ of really good copy and ideas that they have seen on the web and you should do the same with other people’s CVs and job descriptions to help you produce your own winning CV.
Upload Your CV To The Job Boards
Job Boards are a great way to get yourself headhunted, as recruitment agencies trawl through them every day looking for suitable CVs. It is best to submit to both the large generic boards, such as Monster.com and smaller, niche sites that serve your industry sector.
A friend of mine who works in recruitment gave me a couple of useful tips on ensuring my CV got noticed on the job-boards.
Firstly, recruitment agencies use specialist search engines to trawl through the CVs on job-boards looking for suitable candidates. When they begin searching, they tend to set a time criteria, so for example only CVs uploaded in the last three months are searched for. Therefore it is worth re-uploading your CV each month, even if you have not changed it.
When I was job hunting, I would re-upload my CV on a monthly basis and always noticed an increase in calls afterwards, but don’t spam the system by uploading every day, as you will probably just get blacklisted or ignored.
Agencies also tend to use fairly generic job titles in their search criteria, such as ‘Marketing Manager’ or ‘Finance Director’, so if you have a more ambiguous title such as ‘Head of Service and Customer Proposition’ you may want to enter something a little more standard, as this will increase your chances of coming up in the searches.
Make sure you save the login details of all the sites you have submitted your CV to in your job hunting spreadsheet, so that you can quickly access the admin pages to make updates or re-upload your CV.
Send Your CV To Recruitment Agencies
It is also a good idea to pro-actively look for good agencies to work with as they tend to be the gateway to some of the best opportunities, especially those that specialise in specific industry sectors.
A quick search on the web or recommendations from friends and colleagues, should help you to find suitable agencies to send your CV to. Ensure you follow up with a call to get yourself onto their radar.
When working with recruitment agencies to find new employment, it is important that you treat them as an equal partner and always be honest about the opportunities that they present to you.
If there is something about the opportunity that puts you off, let the agency know as they may be able to resolve it or find something more suitable. Either way, it is better to be upfront and honest, rather than wasting everyone’s time attending interviews for roles you are not interested in.
Send You CV Directly To The Employer
Direct submissions to an employer will either be a response to a job you have seen advertised or a pro-active sales prospecting letter sent to organisations that you would like to work for.
Many organisations include a page on their website enabling you to submit your CV online, either for situations they currently have vacant or to capture the details of potential employees who might be required in the future.
If there is no online application facility, then you should either email or post your CV, along with an accompanying letter. Remember it is vital that you do not overlook the importance of the accompanying letter, as it will usually determine whether your CV gets reviewed or trashed.
Key pointers for writing covering letters / emails:
- Try to use the recipient’s name (e.g. Mr Smith, Mrs Jones). If you are prospecting then a quick call to the company may help you to find this out.
- Explain that you are looking for new challenges in your career, that you are very interested in the work done by XYZ company and briefly outline the benefits that you can bring to the organisation.
- If you are responding to a job advert, match your benefits to the job description outlined in the advert, alternatively if you are prospecting try to think of the key benefits that the business will be interested in.
- If you are sending the application by email, do not forget to attach your CV to the email!
- A follow-up call a couple of days after can often help to ensure that your CV reaches the top of the pile and may result in you receiving some valuable feedback.
There are other ways of distributing your CV, such as setting up your own personal website or using social network sites, such as Linked In, but unless you are in an industry where this is common practice, these should really be considered as secondary, nice-to-have activities.
Brush Up On Your Appearance
Despite a more casual dresscode becoming ever more prevalent in office environments, it is still very important to look sharp for interviews, so ensure you invest some time and money into getting a haircut, polishing your shoes and dry-cleaning or buying a new suit that you save exclusively for interviews.
If you look good, you will feel good and that confidence will carry over to your potential employer.
Neutral colours are best and you should avoid anything too outlandish, instead focusing on a subtle, professional image.
Preparing For Interviews
One way to look at an interview is as a sales pitch. Your CV is the marketing material that has opened the door to this opportunity and now all you have to do is close the deal. In addition to this, the interview is also an opportunity for both parties (prospective employer and prospective employee) to suss each other out and decide if this is the right thing for them – In both cases, the key to interview success is preparation.
Personal Elevator Pitch
If you were asked by an employer to describe yourself and explain why they should employ you, what would you say?
Coming up with a clear and concise response to this question on the spot is very difficult, so it is best to create and rehearse your answer before the interview.
In business, ‘elevator pitches’ are used to convey an idea or proposal in less than 40 seconds, about the time it takes for an elevator to complete its journey to the top floor.
Use the value statement from your CV to prepare your own personal elevator pitch that you can either use at the start of the interview to introduce yourself or as part of your response to an open question, such as ‘why should I employ you?’.
Most interviews tend to be competency-based. This means that the questions will be based around various skills, such as communications, team working, leadership and problem solving, from which the interviewer will be expecting you to demonstrate how well you have previously handled these types of situation, backed up with real-life examples.
Preparing answers to those questions before the interview gives you the chance to carefully consider the best examples to provide in your response and reduces the risk of the mind going blank when placed on the spot during the interview.
Whilst it is impossible to prepare for every potential question, it is possible to anticipate from the job description what types of questions will be asked and prepare answers around those expectations.
Using the STAR (Situation – Task – Action – Results) system, go through the job description and for each requirement, write down:
- Situation – set the scene for the problem that you had to resolve
- Task – outline specific details of the problem
- Action – explain what action you took to resolve the problem
- Result – what was the outcome of your action
Obviously you should only provide examples where there was a positive outcome!
With a few exceptions, most organisations will short-list a set of candidates from the first round of interviews and invite them back for a second interview, where the final decision will be made.
Second interviews usually involve the candidate delivering a presentation or undertaking a case study exercise, so that the employer can get a better feeling of their personality, their organisational, analysis and problem solving skills, and how well they perform under pressure.
If you are asked to deliver a presentation, ensure you keep it simple and concise. Remember there is no right or wrong, provided you can back up your opinions with well-structured arguments. Also be prepared to respond to questions both during the presentation and at the end.
Probably the most important point is to ensure you practice, practice and practice some more, so that the words flow fluidly and confidently.
On the other hand if you are required to undertake a case-study based interview, you will probably not be told what the subject of the case study is until you arrive at the interview. However, what you can do is try to determine what the case study scenario will be, based on the type of business you are interviewing for and then predict the sorts of questions you will be asked around it.
Negotiate For The Best Deal
From your research you should have a figure in your mind for what you consider to be a fair salary for the role you interviewed for. If the employer considers you to be the best candidate, they will make you an offer, which may be close to your figure.
If it is close to what you had in mind, I would still be inclined to push to achieve the target figure. One way to do this is to put forward an argument that their offer is below market rate and then re-iterate the key benefits that you will be bringing to the organisation, thereby justifying the additional investment.
In some cases the employer may not be able to match your target figure completely and rather than missing out on the opportunity for the sake of a small sum of money, you could take an alternative tact and push for more annual leave or other benefits, such as being able to work from home.
As with all negotiations the aim is to push for as much as you can, whilst being prepared to compromise to ensure you do not miss out on the opportunity all together.
If, however the offer is markedly below your target figure, then you should consider first whether your target is realistic. If you genuinely feel it is realistic, then you may want to turn down the offer and keep on looking for something else.
Keep On Trying
Job searching can often be disheartening, especially when there is a lot of competition for a decreasing number of jobs and you should be prepared for some disappointment (before I had landed my new role, I was turned down by two other really good organisations that I would have loved to have worked for), so don’t pin all your hopes on one opportunity.
The important thing is to treat each step in the process as a learning curve. You should be constantly tweaking and improving your CV, prospecting new enquiries and using the experience gained from each interview to boost your confidence and come up with better responses, until all of a sudden all the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place and you have landed your ideal opportunity.