10 key job hunting lessons I’ve learnt from going back to work


A few months ago I made the decision to go back to work. My book 7 Keys to a Winning CV had been written and published, my CV writing business had been established, I had gotten into a flow with my weekly blogging on careers, and every so often the invites would come in to speak or run a CV workshop at a university or employment event.

I needed a new challenge, to engage with real (as opposed to virtual) people once more on a day-to-day basis, and I felt going back to work was the solution.

So I was excited about the opportunity ahead of me and confident that all I needed to do was blow the dust off my well-written CV, submit it to one or two jobs of my choice, ace the interview, and then the next chapter of my life would begin smoothly and effortlessly.

I couldn’t have been more wrong!!!

In the next six weeks that followed, little did I know I was about to be subjected to a divinely orchestrated crash course on the state of the job market and how to really go about getting jobs.

I’m pleased to say I did succeed in landing a perfect job and I’m excited to be a part of the organisation I’ve just joined (all will be revealed later!). But in the process I came away with 10 key lessons about job hunting that I want to pass on to you with the hope that it will help you get a better perspective on your job hunting and eventually lead to your own happily ever after in your work life.

The ten lessons

Lesson #1: The harsh reality of the visible job market

Don't let the doom and gloom of newspaper headlines drive you to Jeremy Kyle!

Despite my journalism background (or perhaps because of it), I would be the first to tell you to not believe everything you read in the papers.

In fact, if you pay attention to the constant bombardment of headlines about the rising unemployment figures, lack of jobs available and so on, you may get so discouraged that you will feel you have no other choice but to curl up on your sofa and watch back-to-back episodes of Jeremy Kyle on daytime TV– all day, every day.

While the papers are prone to sensationalism, the truth is the job market really has changed – a LOT! The competition in the visible job market (jobs that are advertised) is very real therefore where with your experience, skills and qualifications you may have previously been a stand out candidate for the role you want, you now have to compete with at least 69 other people who have the same experience, skills and qualifications!

This can understandably be very disheartening so it’s important to make use of ALL job hunting channels you have available to maximise your chances (e.g. recruitment agencies, social media, word of mouth etc) and remember to not take it personal.

Lesson #2: Job hunting is hard work

Job hunting is work in itself, and hard work at that. If you are serious about finding a job, you must get serious about putting in the hard work required to get your CV up to scratch, craft a bespoke cover letter for every job you apply for, or write a compelling application form supporting statement.

Job hunting is hard work - you need to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in

Job hunting also takes time – in fact, it eats up time, so set aside enough hours in a day for the purpose of searching job adverts, registering with online job sites, updating your social media profiles (more on this later) and of course actually applying for suitable jobs. I’d recommend at least 2-3 hours a day if you’re full time job hunting.

Lesson #3: The more targeted your job search, the better

When I first embarked on my job hunt, my primary concern was to find a job that was within my interests (after all, there’s no point working in a dead-end miserable role is there?) so my search was from anything from PR and marketing to project management, communications and editorial.

I quickly realised that this was too broad a field and therefore very time consuming so I went back to the drawing board, re-evaluated my goals and narrowed the scope right down to just two key areas – communications and editorial. This helped me to focus my job search and meant that I could direct my time and energy to where it was likely to yield the most results.

Lesson #4: Only apply for jobs you’ve got skills for and experience in

Leading on from the previous point, you are far more likely to succeed in your applications – in the visible job market – where you have the necessary skills and experience for the role.

Thinking of switching lanes?

Switching lanes? The visible job market may not be your best option if you're a career changer

The competition is so fierce at this level that there really is no need for an employer to take the risk with a candidate who doesn’t have the necessary skills and experience where there are at least twenty others in the same pile who do.

If you’re thinking of switching lanes and entering a new career, your best bet to get a foot in the door is to avoid the visible job market altogether and go for other methods of job hunting.

Lesson #5: Remove any conflicting messages from your CV

Your CV should be communicating one message and one message alone – anything that conflicts the central message should be removed to avoid confusing the employer about your intents.

So if, for example, it’s a medical sales job you want, you really don’t need to be going into detail about that multiple level marketing enterprise you run on the side – save that information for another CV.

Lesson #6: A second pair of eyes is priceless*

I advise people about CVs 24/7 so you can imagine how confident I felt in creating my own CV. But it wasn’t until I got someone else, a professional recruiter, to cast their eyes over my CV (for the first time in over five years) that I realised just how priceless a second pair of eyes is!

Employing a professional eye to look over your CV can make all the difference in your job search

The recruiter pointed out elements of my CV that would have hindered my job search, such as the conflicting message I mentioned above. I found out that my entrepreneurial achievements, as great as they were, were actually obstacles to my employment ambitions therefore that was a conflicting message I had to resolve before handing out my CV once more.

If you’re not having much success with your job search so far or you want to start off on the right foot, I would whole-heartedly recommend that you get a second pair of eyes to look over it – a professional pair of eyes could make all the difference.

Lesson #7: Don’t forget your social media profile

Increasingly employers and recruiters are “googling” potential candidates and checking out their social media profiles to get a better idea of who they are, and of course, to see if there are any unsavoury details that can affect your performance in the role.

With this in mind, make sure your Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and, particularly, your LinkedIn profiles are consistent across the board and in line with your job hunting aims. Just like your actual CV, you also need to get rid of any conflicting messages and photographic evidence you wouldn’t be happy for your employer to stumble across.

Lesson #8: Recruitment agencies are your friends

I don’t mean this literally but when it comes to tapping into the invisible job market, recruitment agencies are your friends. Some employers do not publicly advertise jobs, rather they prefer to put it through to a reputable recruitment agency and leave them the work of finding the right candidates to interview.

The key to recruitment agencies being your allies is to sign up (this doesn’t have to be face-to-face, many are happy with online applications only) with ones that are directly relevant to the types of jobs you are interested in and have the right skills and experience for. A quick way to find out which ones are right for you is to do a web search for your field and location, for example, “media recruitment agencies London”.

Recruitment agencies are your friends - the key is to find and join the right agencies

Individually visit all the sites that show up on the first page (you can do the second and third page too if you like) and check their latest vacancies to see if there are any jobs similar to what you are looking for. If there are, then that’s a good sign that they may have something for you when you sign up.

I would recommend signing up with at least three different agencies then you can sit back and relax (only a little, you still have your own work to do!), while they get to work on your behalf.

Lesson #9:  Employers are not mean, they’re overwhelmed

I hear a lot of jobseekers complain about employers not getting back to them after they’ve taken the time out to submit their CV or application form for a job. The truth is, employers don’t get back to you not because they’re mean and want you to suffer the uncertainty of not knowing, but because they’re overwhelmed – overwhelmed with more applicants than they’ve ever had to deal with and, in most cases, under-resourced with the staff and time to get back to every applicant.

The only time you should expect a call back or acknowledgement from an employer is after you’ve been for an interview. Other than that, as much as it hurts, just give it two weeks after the closing date and if you haven’t heard anything, cut your losses and move on.

Lesson #10: Don’t stop growing

One of the things I was glad about on returning to work was the fact that I had grown as a person and in my skill set from the last time I was in employment. This meant that I had a lot more to give and therefore had a lot more choices open to me in the world of work.

Even if you’re not actively looking for work, it’s important to keep on training, adding new skills to your repertoire and refining your existing skills to mastery level. Gone are the days where you just get paid to come to work, these days employers are looking for people who will add value to their organisation therefore the more skills you can bring to the table, the more employable you are so don’t stop growing.

So, can you relate…?

If you’re job hunting now and you can relate to any of the above, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to share your story in the comments box below…

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  1. David Nolan /

    I don’t have any problem setting aside two to three hours a day to job search activity; I’d be quite content to spend the equivalent hours of a full time job doing it, if I found myself fully occupied as a result. My problem is not having the time, it is filling the time. With the visible job market as quiet as you say, and with the benefit of good online search techniques, it takes very little time to keep an eye on that. The recruitment agents I have spoken to have all struggled to find opportunities that I am suited for.
    The most important thing for me is to try and remain positive. This means ignoring, as much as possible, the bad news to which you allude – sensationalist or not. It may also mean spending less time on daily job search activity, particularly if if threatens that positivity. It seems to me, therefore, that the important “P” word is not “persistence” so much as “patience”.

    •  @David Nolan Hi David, thanks for your feedback. If you’re already spending several hours a day job hunting for a period of time and not seeing any results from it, it may be a good idea to review the tools at your disposal – i.e. your CV, cover letter, interview techniques etc. It’s important to be fully satisfied that all these are up to scratch and not hindering your progress in any way.
      At the same time, you make a good point about overdoing it – it’s no good for a jobseeker to spend all day every day looking for a job – not only will this drain your morale if the results are not matching up to the time invested, but also because you can use some of this time to sharpen your skills – and boost the positivity you mention – by doing a course or volunteering somewhere.
      But yes, patience – coupled with the right tools, resources and methods – will eventually pay off!

  2. Congratulations Mildred. I always enjoy reading your blog and keeping up with you via social media; I hope you are able to continue with it. Your thoughts are so very relevant to the job seekers I deal with and I couldn’t agree more with every single one of your points. I will certainly send along to my candidates and thank you again for sharing your experience.

    • Hi Patti, thank you for the kind words and for taking the time to comment. Love the concept of Diversitree – great name!

  3. Raya /

    I stumbled on your blog and I’ve been glued to my laptop for the past hour taking notes! You are making some very good relevant points and I intend to put them into practice as soon as possible. Thank you.

  4. JackLikesTech /

    Thanks for writing this article and sharing these tips, they’re very helpful. It is encouraging to read that there are others in this position, and to see some of the steps which I’m already taking.

    Also it’s the first time I’d heard the term “visible job market”, when I have extra time I’ll spend longer digging deeper to find jobs that aren’t on the popular job sites.


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