In my workshops, I often ask the participants to deliver their elevator speeches unrehearsed. Or I'll ask them to answer interview questions when they least expect it. Or I'll ask them to talk about their accomplishments.
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In other words, I challenge them.
The job search is stressful as it is. I totally get this. But I also get that the more you challenge yourself in your job search, the easier it will become and the better you'll do. Think of it as akin to pushing yourself to run that extra mile when you want to stop. You'll be better for it in the end.
Here are some ways you can challenge yourself and improve your job search skills:
1. Allow Yourself to Be Put on the Spot
When someone like me asks you to deliver your commercial, don't bow out and say you're not prepared. So what if you feel uneasy in front of the other job seekers? So what if you don't do well at first?
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When you're asked to describe your biggest challenge, don't plead the fifth. That won't fly in an interview. You can't say, "I'm not prepared for this question. Next."
So what if you don't get it right on your first try? Accept the challenge.
2. Tell People You're Out of Work
To most people this seems like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised how embarrassed some people are about losing their jobs. They don't realize it's a natural part of life, especially in a bad economy.
I encourage job seekers to let as many people as possible know they're looking for a job, even if it means they'll be embarrassed. Take the challenge of contacting many people in person to let them know you're in transition. In other words, network within your community.
3. Attend Organized Networking Events
You may have heard that no one likes networking events. Don't listen to the naysayers. You'll be passing up a great opportunity. Networking events offer the opportunity to engage in conversation with other job seekers who could provide sage advice or possible leads.
I know networking events can be uncomfortable, but I force myself to attend them simply to sharpen my skills. I suggest you do the same. Challenge yourself to attend at least two networking events a week.
4. Have Others Read Your Resume
You may think you've written a great resume and cover letter, but other people may not agree – like the time my wife told me she thought my resume was "verbose." I'm not sure if she used that word exactly, but I got the picture that someone reading it would think it laborious.
Asking my wife to read my resume took courage and prompted me to edit it. Challenge yourself to have someone else read your resume, and then take what they say as constructive criticism.
5. Ask for a Mock Interview
This may be the closest you'll get to an actual interview. Mock interviews are a valuable teaching tool, and any organization that offers them is providing a great service. But mock interviews don't have to be conducted by a professional job coach or advisor; a friend of yours can perform the function just as well.
When I challenge job seekers to participate in mock interviews, many pass on the valuable opportunity. Others, though, see a mock interview as a valuable tool that will help them better understand how they answer questions, their body language, and their facial expressions. You should challenge yourself to participate in a mock interview.
6. Reach Out to Your LinkedIn Connections
Introverts may feel the severity of this challenge more than their extravert counterparts. However, your connections are not bona fide connections until you reach out to them in a personal way, as in a phone call or coffee meeting.
Some of my LinkedIn connections I've reached out to have proven to be great networking partners, while others turned out to have little in common with me. The point is that as challenging as this is, it's well worth the effort. You could develop real relationships that you never would have developed otherwise.
7. Get Off the Internet
Not completely, but use it seldom and in different ways. Instead of defaulting to your comfort zone of job boards, use LinkedIn to find relevant connections through the "Companies" feature. Then connect with these people and follow my suggestion above.
Also visit your target companies' websites to see how they're doing in terms of growth. Contact the companies that are doing well with an approach letter to ask for informational meetings (or networking meetings). This takes courage, but it will yield better results than using job boards alone.
8. Participate in Informational Meetings
Informational meetings have been critical to many job seekers' successes, but landing an informational meeting isn't easy. Many of the people you'd want to meet with are very busy, with little time to spare. You may have to elicit help from one of your LinkedIn or personal connections in order to secure an informational meeting.
When you attend an informational meeting, remember that you're the one asking the questions about a position and the company – so ask intelligent ones. You're not there to beg for a job; you're there to gather information and get advice.
Reader, these challenges outlined above – having people read your resume, asking for mock interviews, etc. – are necessary if you want to land the desired interview. The interview is perhaps the biggest challenge of all when it comes to the job search, but if you prepare yourself by facing these smaller challenges first, I have no doubt you'll land the job.
I would love to hear about your success story. Please leave a comment below!
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.