Job seekers be aware: nothing so quaint as the recent past

In my local Oxfam shop I picked up a copy of David Lodge’s entertaining novel Therapy. It was published in 1995 so probably written in 1994, not so long ago, surely? But actually it feels as bizarrely other-worldly and strangely unfamiliar as any novel from much earlier eras. In the novel people write letters, they visit libraries, they use landlines (except that they don’t refer to them by that name, they’re just ‘phones’), they send faxes, go to bookshops. Hospitals are dirty, vast numbers of the population watch the same TV channel at the same time, most people have proper jobs, trains are late, men wear ties. There are a few passing references to computers, but there’s no Google, no mobiles, no social media, no Netflix, no Amazon.

Working as a coach to people looking for jobs, I am struck by how many are innocently operating on equally outmoded assumptions. If you are also a career coach or someone looking for a job, watch out for all of these traps:

  • Employers can see for themselves how brilliant I am
  • Sending out my CV to as many employers as possible will land me a job
  • Recruitment agencies will find me a job
  • Most jobs are advertised somewhere, it’s just a case of keeping on looking
  • I’m looking for a job with long term security
  • If I can’t do every aspect of the job an employer has described, the employer will train me.

All of these assumptions are mistaken. To get a job you have to see everything from the employer’s point of view. No employer will hire unless there is a problem they can’t solve in other ways. They expect you to show them how you can spot and solve these problems. Sending out a CV randomly means it is headed for the recycling bin; you have to target and tailor your CV. Better to send out one carefully crafted CV than dozens of standard ones.

Recruitment agencies find people for jobs, not jobs for people. Mostly they are interested in mass recruitments and not at all interested in solving your career problems. If you find one with a consultant who really appears to care, cherish them.

The best way to find a job is through your network and if it isn’t big enough then spend time expanding it. Be very clear what it is you are looking for, ask everyone in your network for help and advice, though not for an actual job. Develop a simple script which will tell an employer what you can guarantee to do for them. Be prepared to take something temporary as an excellent route to finding something with a longer contract. See each job as a preparation for the next and an opportunity for learning.

Update your LinkedIn profile frequently and make skilful use of Google, Facebook and Twitter.

And if none of this bears fruit, then maybe think about starting your own business.

Life has changed since 1994.