Some informal tips for job-seeking

Nowadays, I semi-regularly have people asking me for jobs. This can be directly at my company, at the university, or simply somewhere I might happen to be aware of.

Sadly, most of the time I have to turn them down, as nothing’s available that I know of. However, I still try to share some tips, to at least be of some helps. So, I thought why not share them with everybody.

SUPER-HEAVY IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I’m not a career coach of any kind. I don’t even have much experience on job-seeking myself. The information below applies to the typical query I get: someone from outside North-Western Europe seeking employment preferably in Western Europe.

The information presented here is based on my personal observations, preferences, biases, and assumptions – nothing more than that. If you think something doesn’t apply, adjust accordingly.

Stand out

Entering the CV-resume-application beauty parade is the worst way to get hired. I remember reading that about 80 % of positions in Finland get filled by other ways.

So stand out. If you’re reading this because you contacted my, you have very much the right idea – I just happened to be the wrong person at the wrong time.

Some options for standing out in a good way include:

Reaching out to decision makers

Meaning, contacting people e.g. by email or on LinkedIn, and asking for open positions either at their business or elsewhere.

Again, if you just contacted me, you’ve got this covered out.

Open applications

Many companies have an option to submit an application that is not aimed at any specific currently-open position.

While this may sound even worse than the general CV roulette, this is normally not the case. You see, when a new position opens up, companies usually check their existing pile of open applications first. After all, it’s much less hassle that way.

If you are somewhat more lucky, somebody has already read your application by the the time said position opens, and will remember your name.

And in the best case, they decide you might be a good addition to the company immediately after they’ve read your application. This is most commonly the case in start-ups and other small businesses. Their organization is more flexible, and they may not even have considered they’d need somebody like you.

Connections in Linkedin and similar

Networking on LinkedIn can be a very powerful tool. However, that requires staying on top of other people’s feeds. After all, a passive connection is going to be forgotten very quickly.

Meaning, you pretty much need to make some posts of your own. Or, ‘produce content’ as the more fancy name of the same activity goes. More of this soon.

Check your language

I’m personally pretty anal about spelling and grammar.

After all, it’s pretty hard to convey professionalism when your text, be it application or CV or anything else, is full of misspellings. I recommend the Grammarly tool for that – even the free version is pretty decent, and also catches grammatical errors on top of simple typos.

However, note that ‘correct spelling’ does not equal ‘formality’. An overly formal application with lots of Sirs and whatever may be appropriate for some positions – and get you labelled as an ass-kissing dinosaur in other cases. Which brings me to my next point.

Culture

Your application – note that I’m using the word application very freely here. I mean your actual motivational letter – CV combo, as well as your outreach emails, LinkedIn posts, and everything like that.

So, your application has to be tailored towards the culture of whoever you’re approaching. Factors such as industry, size of company, country, and even inter-company differences withing the same niche have to be considered.

For instance, here in Finland businesses are usually not very interested in good order-takers and button-pushers. So, filling your CV with the software you’ve used and who you’ve worked for may not be the best approach.

And at the same time, you can probably think of other countries where exactly the opposite is true.

Be lucky

And this is not to depress you – the exact opposite in fact. That you haven’t got a job yet may be entirely due to bad luck.

Now, ‘luck’ may seem too mystical and cosmically-fixed, so let’s speak about chances instead. Chances are staticics, and statistics can be improved.

Some people call this increasing your luck surface area – a very fitting defition in my opinion. Indeed, stuff like sending open applications and contacting people makes you more visible, increasing your job-seeking radar surface.

Which brings us to the next point.

Build a portfolio of some sorts

Alright, this is mostly a personal peeve of mine. But, I do like it a lot when people have a website or similar where I can see what they’ve worked on.

One key piece that’s very commonly missed, is making sure the readers understand it. Posting some multi-coloured FEA plots is nice, but it tells hardly anything to someone who’s not working on the same field. So, try to include a brief description like:

  • What it is
  • How you did it
  • Why you did it
  • What do the results mean

Unless you know for sure that you’re a good writer, keep it very short. Bulleted lists and similar tend to work nicely, and are much more forgiving to less-than-stellar writing capabilities. Besides, you’ll get better by simply keeping at it long enough.

So, where can you place your portfolio?

Well, website is an obvious choice. However, if you don’t have a personal website, there are still some options. On some fields, it’s possible to use another website – like Github for coders.

You can also keep posting small snippets on LinkedIn, or whatever happens to be the top social media on your field, at the time you’re reading this. Just make sure you copy the same information on your hard-drive – it sucks to have your work disappear due to some service policy change. Besides, you can also compile the same information into an offline pdf document that you can attach to your applications.

Follow-up

People are generally well-meaning. At the same time, people generally get very busy and forget things.

So, if you don’t hear back from somebody, just (politely) contact them again. And if they tell you nothing’s available, you can and should contact them again a few months later.

P.S.: Halo effect

The Halo effect refers to how people tend to assume something about a person based on something they see right now. Like, how somebody wearing a suit is probably polite and trustworthy, and so on.

You can certainly think of ways how you can make this work for you. For instance, helping people online tends to get you labelled as knowledgeable and helpful, at the very list.

However, you can also torpedoe what little chances you have just as easily. So keep your political rants to yourself.

Suit maketh man. Or was it manners. I always seem to mix those up.

P.P.S: Other stuff

You can find a few more tips on this interview of mine here:

  • Learn some interpersonal skills. Engineers suck at those, in general.
  • It helps to know some other stuff too, besides your core competence. The worklife in general is shifting towards one person wearing many hats. This is especially important in smaller businesses.

P.P.P.S. Make sure to check out the discussion on LinkedIn

Lot’s of good additional tips over there!


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